A prefiled bill partially inspired by the 2018 shooting at Marshall County High School would prevent the public from viewing gruesome evidence in Kentucky’s court cases.
Sixth District State Representative Chris Freeland of Benton prefiled the bill, known as “The Bailey Holt-Preston Cope Victims Privacy Act,” for the 2020 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Holt and Cope are the two 15-year old students who died in the shooting. Freeland said the issue was brought to his attention by Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall and 42nd Judicial Circuit Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust, both prosecutors on the shooting case.
The bill would update Kentucky’s existing public records statutes to prevent the spread of media where the “disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” This could include grisly photos and videos depicting violent crimes including murder and rape.
Freeland said the bill’s goal is to bring the statutes into the digital age, because the public records laws were written before the widespread use of electronic media. He said the bill does not violate the First Amendment and believes the measure will have widespread support.
“No one is opposing this because it’s not any restriction on freedom of the press, open records or anything of that nature,” Freeland said. “These are videos, pictures that no one needs to see.”
Louisville First Amendment attorney Michael Abate disagrees. He said the public has a right to view materials that are part of judicial proceedings.
“The public and the media have a right to access information that is made part of a court record and part of a criminal or civil proceeding,” Abate said.
Abate also said the bill is written in a way that could make it unconstitutional.
“There’s a vagueness problem in what is being defined as a gruesome photograph, which in an individual case could be subject to real debate,” Abate said. “This is something that’s going to have implications on the First Amendment rights of not only journalists, but citizens who want to access government information.”
Freeland said he has reached out to other legislators in regards to the bill, and some have already expressed support. The 2020 regular session begins on January 7.
You can see the pre-filed bill below: