Baltimore Podcaster Asserts First Amendment Right to Air Publicly Available Court Recordings
Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection Submits Letter on Behalf of Amelia McDonell-Parry Notifying Local Court Officials of Her Intent to Use Courtroom Audio on Upcoming Podcast
[Baltimore, MD] — The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law sent a letter to Baltimore City Circuit Court officials today informing them of journalist Amelia McDonell-Parry’s plans to air courtroom audio recordings in an upcoming podcast. The letter sets up a potential clash over the constitutionality of a Maryland rule that prohibits “broadcast[ing] any criminal matter, including a trial, hearing, motion, or argument, that is held in trial court.” Although other states restrict the live-broadcasting of court proceedings, Maryland appears to be unique in prohibiting people from broadcasting publicly available court recordings.
Amelia McDonell-Parry is a local journalist and host of the upcoming season of Undisclosed, an investigative-reporting podcast focused on the criminal-justice system. The upcoming season, which debuts on April 22, explores the prosecution of Keith Davis, Jr., who has been imprisoned since 2015 on attempted robbery and murder charges. Davis faces his fourth murder trial, following three prior mistrials, all of which received considerable press attention. McDonell-Parry will chronicle these legal proceedings from a critical perspective, using excerpts of recordings from Davis’s prior trials to help tell his story.
McDonell-Parry obtained these recordings directly from the court under a provision of Maryland law that requires audio recordings of open-court proceedings to be made “available to any person upon written request.” In its letter, the Institute asserts McDonell-Parry’s First Amendment right to air lawfully acquired recordings and asks the court to explain why restricting her expression is necessary to “further a state interest of the highest order” (the relevant legal test).
“Maryland allows anyone in the world to obtain audio recordings of criminal trials, but its broadcasting ban stifles public discussion of those very same proceedings,” said McDonell-Parry.
“Baltimore’s court system is a matter of immense public interest, both locally and nationally,” said Nicolas Riley, one of the attorneys who wrote the letter. “Journalists cannot be punished for trying to shine a light on that system, especially when they are using publicly available recordings to do so. In a moment of unprecedented attacks on the press, we should be deeply troubled by any efforts to punish journalists for exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Baltimore court officials have previously considered enforcing the rule against other journalists. Two years ago, the court considered holding the producers of the podcast Serial in contempt for airing audio recordings from the criminal trial of Adnan Syed.
About the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP):
ICAP uses the power of the courts to defend American constitutional rights and values. Based at Georgetown Law Center, ICAP draws on expert litigators, savvy litigation strategy, and the constitutional scholarship of Georgetown to vindicate individuals’ rights and to protect America’s constitutional way of life. More information about ICAP can be found at https://www.law.georgetown.edu/icap/.
The Undisclosed podcast investigates wrongful convictions, and the U.S. criminal justice system, by taking a closer look at the perpetration of a crime, its investigation, the trial, and ultimate verdict . . . and finding new evidence that never made it to court. More information about Undisclosed can be found at http://undisclosed-podcast.com/.