Journalism Student Protected By California Shield Law

from the journalism-in-action dept

Earlier this year, we wrote about a journalism student who witnessed a murder while doing a photojournalism project. While police were trying to get information from him, he invoked California's shield law for journalists, allowing them to protect "sources." The case is complex on a number of different levels -- from the fact that the kid is a student, not a full-time journalist, to the fact that the information on the murder wasn't directly a source from whom he was learning info, but something he just witnessed. The other complicating factor is the idea that the student could put his life in danger by revealing what he saw. Either way, a judge has ruled that, indeed, California's shield law protects this student and he does not need to reveal what he saw. The police are not happy, and referred to the student as a "coward," which seems a bit harsh.


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  1.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 2:34pm

    "The police are not happy, and referred to the student as a "coward," which seems a bit harsh."

    Let me guess, it was probably some donut munching desk jockey wearing a suit of kevlar, toting a couple sidearms, and driving home in a black and white with bullet proof glass for a windshield. Yeah, the unarmed college kid who witnessed the murder you, the athorities, couldn't keep from happening, HE'S the coward...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:07pm

    Re:

    Statistically speaking, a convenience store clerk or cab driver are far more likely to killed on the job than a police officer.

     

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  3.  
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    Joe.H, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:11pm

    Watch out for Fake DUI

    That student is f***ed for life man. Each time he get's stopped by 5O he is getting ticket for no apparent reason.

     

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  4.  
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    Kevin (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:14pm

    “It is vain for the coward to flee; death follows close behind; it is only by defying it that the brave escape.” Voltaire

    I thought he was a journalism student... Wouldn't this make a good story?

     

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    SuperSparky, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 3:55pm

    Sickening

    So, "journalistic integrity" is more important than the life of a human being now? Only in California. Yes, this guy is a coward, and a sorry excuse for a human being as well.

    Someone was MURDERED and he stood there, watched, reported on it, and then refused to allow justice to punish those that did it.

    Sorry, this out weighs any so-called "journalistic integrity". We're not talking about a "deep throat" or a whistle blower, we are talking about witnessing a murder of another human being.

    This kid is more than a coward. He has no soul.

     

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    Left/Right, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 4:11pm

    Sparky's right

    I think Sparky has the right attitude...
    Karma will ensure that the student gets the same compassion next time around.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 4:12pm

    Journalistic integrity is something that needs protection, but not in this case - without knowing all the facts I say that the kid needs to give up that information. If he fears for his life; I would assume that those that intend harm would feel that way regardless of whether or not he talks to police. If they know who he is he's in danger no matter what.

    That said I have no idea what I would do if I were in his shoes.

     

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    Josh O. (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 4:35pm

    The kid is a coward. Plain and simple.

     

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    Josh O. (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 4:43pm

    The kid is a coward. Plain and simple.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 4:55pm

    Re: Sickening

    Coward = NO. He stood up to the bully boys - the cops.

    Jerk = most likely YES for the reasons you expressed.

     

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    Sneeje (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 5:38pm

    Re:

    DH, I generally enjoy your witty postings, but this is disappointing at best. Cops are as human as the rest of us, doing a job very few of us would do. It seems to me that it is becoming culturally acceptable to denigrate officers and the profession in general. I find this sickening.

    Spend some time in a country like Mexico and interact with law enforcement there and you'll realize how good we have it here. I don't have some blind eyes of the failings of our LEAs, but I do have some sense of the difficult job they have to do on a daily basis.

    Spend a week or so where every person you speak to generally lies, obfuscates, or makes your job difficult and you'd get frustrated like them pretty quick.

    I know you're frustrated, but you know saying "you, the authorities, couldn't keep from happening," makes no sense. No "authority" can prevent a murder from occurring unless they are present for the action--threat of prosecution or capture is the only deterrent and even in the face of certain arrest people still kill other people.

     

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    Lindsay S., Jul 17th, 2009 @ 5:43pm

    I can't necessarily agree with the kid's stance, but really, what would you do?

    All these people commenting, so easily calling him a coward, I highly doubt they'd have the balls to do the right thing if it were -their- lives on the line. (And who would expect any more/less from people calling people names from the anonymity of their homes)

     

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  13.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 5:43pm

    Re: Re: Sickening

    Wow, I mean, just wow. You'd feel much different if it was your child that was murdered and the student was withholding information that would help catch the murderer.

    This is a dangerous road to go down-lauding those that fight against law enforcement. Perhaps we should all just do whatever we want and disband the police force.

     

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    Sneeje (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 5:45pm

    Re:

    That would pretty much be the textbook definition of coward. "noun - a person who lacks courage in facing danger, difficulty, opposition, pain, etc."

     

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    lux (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 6:04pm

    I hate Law

    The shield law should be applied on a case-by-case basis, and in this particular instance, the court is serving more justice to the witness than to the actual victim. This is truly sad to see. Calling this girl a coward is not harsh, it's actually very accurate.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 6:05pm

    Americans are undereducated, fat and afraid of everything! :)

    But seriously, you can't reasonably demand the kid to be a hero. If you would do it, that's perfectly ok... but asking another person to risk his life because you would is kind of weird.

    What troubles me most about this is that the kid got special protection because he's a journalism student (if that's the case). Making differences because of background or education is plane wrong. Since the source was him (apparently), I think that's stretching the law because of this particular case.

     

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  17.  
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    Jake, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 6:20pm

    Very much in two minds here. If there's reason to believe that the murder was a gang affair, anyone testifying as a witness for the prosecution is placing their life in considerable danger; in that student's position, I would want some very strong assurances of police protection for myself and my family before I went to the stand for the sake of a complete stranger, and it's not clear from the linked article whether any such offers have been made.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 9:28pm

    Re: Re:

    Cops are as human as the rest of us,...

    I'm glad you realize that, because a great many of them don't. Many seem to think, and act like, they are better than "the rest of us".

    ...doing a job very few of us would do.

    Actually, most agencies have people line up practically begging to get in. It helps to know someone.

    It seems to me that it is becoming culturally acceptable to denigrate officers and the profession in general. I find this sickening.

    I've noticed just the opposite. It seems to be politically incorrect to criticize cops in any way. If someone does, they are usually sure to be attacked for it by politically-correct hero worshipers. I find *that* sickening.

     

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  19.  
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    mertz, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 9:31pm

    i think the kid is in the wrong regarding this entire situation. i agree with the cops, and that's actually rare. is the kid actually reporting about what he saw or is he being given a pass because of his status at the time. if he has information that can help solve a crime, why wouldn't the kid try to help the authorities in this instance. i feel like i don't have the whole story.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 10:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Sickening

    This is a dangerous road to go down

    So you're one of those who would like to repeal the shield laws?

    lauding those that fight against law enforcement.

    First of all, he's not generally being lauded. In fact, he's been subjected to quite a bit of scorn and name calling from the likes of the police and yourself.

    Second, he's not "fighting against law enforcement." That would require him to be taking affirmative actions against them (the police), which he isn't. He just hasn't *helped* them out with his testimony. So why tell such lies?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 10:12pm

    Re:

    Making differences because of background or education is plane wrong.

    It isn't "because of background or education". It's because of role. And we do that all the time. Lawyers are allowed to represent people in legal matters that others are not. Doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs that others are not. Cops are allowed to possess weapons and use force that others are not. And so on and so forth. Society makes such distinctions all the time.

     

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  22.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 17th, 2009 @ 10:52pm

    Re: Re:

    "DH, I generally enjoy your witty postings, but this is disappointing at best. Cops are as human as the rest of us, doing a job very few of us would do. It seems to me that it is becoming culturally acceptable to denigrate officers and the profession in general. I find this sickening."

    Glad you generally enjoy, but extrapolating my commentary on what is clearly an idiotic statement by some upper level "policeman" into some kind of carte blanche attack on everyone who serves in law enforcement is a fairly clear strawman. This is a police dept. that failed to keep one murder from happening, and is now calling a witness a coward for being fearful that they'd let him be murdered as well if he stepped forward. If I was an airline pilot who crashed my last plane into a mountain, do I get to call people cowards if they don't want to fly my next plane?

    "Spend some time in a country like Mexico and interact with law enforcement there and you'll realize how good we have it here. I don't have some blind eyes of the failings of our LEAs, but I do have some sense of the difficult job they have to do on a daily basis."

    The difficult job that SOME of them do. SOME of them. Most don't. I have friends in law enforcement. Their stories make me very, very angry. They think they're funny. They are not.

    "Spend a week or so where every person you speak to generally lies, obfuscates, or makes your job difficult and you'd get frustrated like them pretty quick."

    Well, it seems perfectly reasonable then to respond to a WITNESS by calling him a coward? What am I missing here?

    I know you're frustrated, but you know saying "you, the authorities, couldn't keep from happening," makes no sense. No "authority" can prevent a murder from occurring unless they are present for the action--threat of prosecution or capture is the only deterrent and even in the face of certain arrest people still kill other people."

    That's fine. But if you can't prevent murders, then you don't get to call witnesses cowards when they're afraid.

     

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  23.  
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    Bart, Jul 17th, 2009 @ 11:20pm

    It seems simple to me. If the kid were a journalist, and instead of a school project he was working on a news project, would he have to take the witness stand in this case?

    It's funny how on one hand police doesn't want their pictures taken, especially for undercover agents, as it would endanger their lives and yet call someone who doesn't get a annual automatic paycheck increase of 10% (and other perks) for their risk job a coward when they want to protect themselves.

    Keep in mind that the kid was likely no ordinary "anonymous" witness, but because of the project he was doing probably a very known face in the neighborhood.

     

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  24.  
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    DMNTD, Jul 18th, 2009 @ 5:18am

    Wow...

    Does not really matter what any of you think..by chance I will say...none of you were there. Imagine that.

    As for the case, perhaps a good call perhaps not.

     

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  25.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Jul 18th, 2009 @ 10:09am

    Re: Re: Re:

    No, not a strawman--I think we must have different ideas about what that means, since I never knocked it down.

    However, I will grant you that I did extrapolate your argument further than it seems you intended. I apologize, that extrapolation seems to be the general tone of the responses to this overall topic and I unfairly applied it to you.

    As for the rest of your response--since we're debating matters of opinion and perception we'll just have to move on. You same SOME, I say MOST. I think that people unfairly generalize behaviors of individuals to the entire group. There are a lot of psychological reasons for this (selection bias, remembering the negative, etc) plus everyone likes there to be laws, but no one likes it when they restrict our desired behaviors.

     

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  26.  
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    Michaelk42, Jul 18th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    Sneeje

    I take it you've not spent much time at theagitator.com, injusticeeverywhere.com or carlosmiller.com then.

     

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  27.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 18th, 2009 @ 3:54pm

    Re: Sneeje

    Ah, Sneeje is alright, he just mistakes who I think is the real enemy. In most cases it isn't the police, it's the ones who control THEM and indoctrinate our police and servicemen into a system based on the kind of control our founding fathers fought AGAINST.

    However, I was only dealing in this instance relayed in the article. It's simple: I don't care how many "scumbags" you have to deal with on a daily basis, because none of that should translate into a witness being called a coward for not coming forward. Look, it's a simple equation:

    A. Murders happen, committed by bad people
    B. Police want you to testify against one of these PROVEN murderers (proven to the witness, since they witnessed it)
    C. You tell the police to go fuck themselves, since it's fairly obvious they can't keep murders from happening in the neighborhood, and this proven murderer would especially want to get you

    How is that not reasonable?

     

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  28.  
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    tobo, Jul 18th, 2009 @ 6:57pm

    That's misuse of the shield. Not what it was intended for, and not how it should be used.
    If any non-journalism student had witnessed the same thing, we'd have nothing to hide behind.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2009 @ 7:12pm

    Re: Re:

    Point taken. Specially on the Doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs part. But still... IMHO the shield law allows you to report on something that happened without getting your source in trouble. The goal of this is to have the source talk to you because he knows that no one will know who he was and he can't get in trouble because of that. The public can get his opinion, his side of the story. This is nothing like that. The news happened by chance, and the source is the kid, not someone else so you actually know who the kid was. I think that in this case he's being protected because of his background. If I was at the same park taking photos of a friend being murdered, I will be required to surrender them and the situation will be almost exactly the same. I still don't think he's a coward (or if he is, I don't think anyone can force him not to be one, that just isn't fair). But I think that granting him protection not because of what he was doing (reporting) but because of his background is not fair.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2009 @ 9:30pm

    Welcome to "we are all journalists".

    All you need to do is write a blog or something, and you can claim you are a journalist for everything. No more talking to the cops, because, well, you are a journalist.

    Yeah right. This one will certainly be appealed, it's a BS decision.

     

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  31.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Jul 19th, 2009 @ 6:41am

    Re: Sneeje

    No, I haven't, because these sites are fraught with selection bias and hasty generalization. Meaning, if you look only at the negative results without the larger context, you will make incorrect conclusions.

    The argument for sites like these is generally, "someone has to keep the authorities in check" which is an important goal, except for the way in which it is usually executed--full of glee, anarchism, and schadenfreude. I don't find that particularly noble. If these sites focused on helping improve the situation rather than simply pointing out failures I might read them more often.

    As for DH, I understand and agree with your points, but it seems to me that if you take the "C" route, you're now in a never ending cycle of violence. At some point, someone has to stand up and make it stop--and assuming it will be the authorities just keeps you in the role of victim. I realize, however, that this is a wonderful theory that in practice may be extremely difficult (thus the issue with the journalists decision).

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Sneeje

    No, I haven't, because these sites are fraught with selection bias and hasty generalization.

    Unlike yourself, eh?

    the way in which it is usually executed--full of glee, anarchism, and schadenfreude. I don't find that particularly noble.

    In your opinion. But then, what else could be expected from a fascist point of view?

    If these sites focused on helping improve the situation rather than simply pointing out failures I might read them more often.

    Pointing out problems is about the limit of journalism. Journalist aren't supposed to take things into their own hands with direct action to supposedly "improve the situation". That's the kind of thing fascists, terrorists and others of their ilk are known for and it has no place in democracy. You're scary.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2009 @ 10:45pm

    getting killed is harsh.
    refusing to help bring justice is cowardice.

     

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  34.  
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    ToySouljah (profile), Jul 19th, 2009 @ 11:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Yeah, I agree with you about how SOME cops do their jobs. My cousin is a cop and is pretty straight up and fair when it comes to his job. My friend....well...associate I went to HS with became a cop and he is on some sort of power trip. We were at a cookout at a friends house and he was telling me stories about how he hates pulling over (excuse the language) spics, wetbacks, and well...you get the point. The funny thing in all that is that he is Hispanic himself. Then, he was trying to be all cool and asking "so...any of you got doobies we can spark?" We said no, but only because he seemed like the type that would set up his own friends...kind of a sad excuse for a cop if you ask me.

     

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  35.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Jul 20th, 2009 @ 5:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Sneeje

    Great job refuting me with completely random words. I will respond in kind... snorkle! Splunge! You'll have to point out where I applied selection bias or HG to get credit.

    I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you are putting forth a rational argument, but I think you might be throwing around the word "fascist" a bit too loosely. By your definition, anyone that disagrees with you or has issues with nonconstructive criticism is a fascist. That's like calling someone that thinks Michael Jackson was a pedophile, a racist.

    "Pointing out problems is about the limit of journalism". Sorry, your argument is a rationalization, not a valid point. Otherwise, journalistic publications ought to remove their editorial pages and blogs aren't journalism. It is possible to point out problems in a constructive way--there are many journalists that do so. This is very hard and requires significant talent and intelligence. Anyone can criticize. I'm just suggesting that those who just criticize often do so out of an ugly, self-inflating reason, rather than the collective benefit that they claim.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2009 @ 9:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Sneeje

    I find your comments to be nonconstructive and full of glee, anarchism, and schadenfreude. Somebody should do something about you.

     

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  37.  
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    JoeEsq, Jul 20th, 2009 @ 10:51am

    sickening

    >[His attorney] told the court that his client was trying to shop the project to the Wall Street Journal and the Bay Area News Group, publisher of the San Jose Mercury, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.

     

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