Supreme Court to decide cases on media ride-alongs
March 24, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a pair of cases involving the legality of media "ride-alongs" with police making arrests and conducting searches.
Such media coverage violates the Fourth Amendment's rights of privacy, attorneys told the justices.
"The only authority police have is to enter the home, (not) bring along the media on a news-gathering expedition," attorney Richard Willard said.
Willard represents a Maryland couple photographed in their nightclothes when law enforcement officials entered their home searching for the couple's fugitive son.
The Washington Post's reports on "Operation Gunsmoke" never used pictures of Charles and Geraldine Wilson, and their son later turned himself in.
In the second case, a CNN crew accompanied federal agents searching for evidence of eagle poisoning in a 1993 raid on Paul Berger's Montana ranch.
"CNN at no time identified itself to the Bergers as being present," said attorney Henry Rossbacher. "They never asked for permission to be on the ranch."
The Bergers were acquitted of all charges except a minor misuse of a pesticide charge.
Justices see 'entertainment' value
The actions of the media are not in question in the two cases, although some still-pending cases do focus on the role of news gathering organizations. The Bergers and Wilsons both alleged that law enforcement departments violated their constitutional rights by bringing newspaper and television reporters along.
"If the police can bring the media into your home, we think that's about as clear a violation (of the Fourth Amendment) as can be imagined," Willard said.
The police disagree.
"I think police officers have come to understand that it facilitates their mission to have accurate press reporting and to have the public have a better sense of what they do, the dangers they face," said Richard Cordray, attorney for the federal agents in the Berger case.
Some justices appeared to harbor serious doubts during questioning.
"What's the help (to law enforcement) provided here?" queried David H. Souter during a lively 80-minute session. "It is not merely for entertainment? I don't see why you have to take the news media people into someone's home ... it sounds like fluff."
Lower courts threw out the Wilsons' lawsuit, while an appeals court ruled that the Bergers have a right to sue.
The court will rule by late June whether law enforcement agencies can be sued for bringing the media along for the ride.
Correspondent Charles Bierbauer contributed to this report.
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