Winter/Spring 2014

Fla. Court Lifts Ban on Reporting Accidentally Released Criminal Confession

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Timothy J. Conner

A Florida trial court vacated two prior restraint orders against the media from publishing unredacted information in a police report.

On August 23, 2013, James Patrick Tadros was arrested and charged with attempted murder, false imprisonment and criminal mischief for allegedly luring a nine-year-old girl into a Best Buy restroom and attacking her. He confessed to police, according to the report.

Under Florida law, confessions are exempt from disclosure. However, the unredacted police report containing the confession had been posted on a web portal available only to lawyers. A lawyer for Jacksonville television station WJXT provided a copy to reporters. When WJXT called prosecutors for comment, they rushed into court and obtained an emergency order prohibiting the broadcast of the confession.

The station, however, aired a screen shot of the police report during the broadcast, which showed the unredacted portion. The court convened a contempt hearing and, while declining to hold the station in contempt, issued a second prior restraint against The Florida Times-Union, which had sent a reporter to the contempt hearing.

The Florida Times-Union, joined by Gannett's First Coast News, moved to set aside the prior restraints. Following a hearing, the court vacated the prior restraints. The court found that "a government may not prohibit or punish the publication of the information once it falls into the hands of the press unless the need for secrecy is 'manifestly overwhelming.'" The court determined that other means existed for protecting the defendant's right to a fair trial, and that the passage of time "may resolve any challenges presented by the publishing of the" confession.

Holland & Knight represented The Florida Times-Union and First Coast News in this matter.

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