An Idaho judge has refused to lift a gag order that was imposed on the criminal case of Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of murdering four University of Idaho students. The news organizations that sought to have the gag order lifted were denied but the ruling contained significant narrowing of its scope.
The 2nd District Judge John Judge concluded that it was necessary to restrict attorneys from making certain statements in order to protect Kohberger’s right to a fair trial. He further noted that the original gag order was too broad and vague in some areas.
Kohberger is facing four counts of first-degree murder and burglary following the discovery of the bodies of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin in a rental home across the street from the University of Idaho campus. As prosecutors have yet to reveal any intentions to seek the death penalty, news organizations moved to challenge what they saw as an infringement on their First Amendment rights with a petition to the Idaho Supreme Court.
The court responded by noting that it respected the role and promises made both in the Idaho Constitution and the First Amendment of the US Constitution for responsible press coverage. It directed them to first approach the lower court before making an appeal.
Judge John Judge consolidated this directive in his ruling, noting that while he recognized the media’s right to freedom of speech, Kohberger’s right to a fair trial was paramount and necessitated some restriction on certain statements made by attorneys related to the case.
The new gag order, which is formally called a “nondissemination order” prohibits attorneys, law enforcement agencies and those associated with the case from making statements that could influence or prejudice the outcome of the proceedings. They are allowed to comment on matters like scheduling and procedural issues but cannot express opinions about guilt or innocence outside of court nor can they provide information that would not be permitted in court.
Attorneys representing victims’ families have also asked to be excluded from the gag order as they claim it restricts them from talking to the press on behalf of their clients. Judge John Judge however declined this request citing their ability to access confidential information related to the case which would lead to prejudicial effects if disclosed publicly.
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