The Associated Press v. Otter

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: 06-08-2012
  • Case #: 12-35456
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judge Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

Under California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford , the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view an entire execution, including the "initial procedures." Any limitation on this right must be "reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives."

The State of Idaho prohibited witnesses from viewing the “initial procedures” of Richard Leavitt’s execution, which included entry into the execution chamber and insertion of intravenous lines into Leavitt’s body. A coalition of media sources (collectively “the AP”) sought a preliminary injunction against the State of Idaho allowing access for witnesses to view the entire execution. The district court denied the preliminary injunction, and the AP appealed. The AP argued that the State’s refusal to allow witnesses to view the initial procedures violated its First Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit relied on California First Amendment Coalition v. Woodford, where the Court held that “the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber, including those ‘initial procedures’ that are inextricably intertwined with the process of putting the condemned inmate to death.” The Court noted that the State could prevail on its claim if the limitation of the AP’s rights was “reasonably related to legitimate penological objectives,” rather than “an exaggerated response to those concerns.” The State failed to show how limiting witnesses’ access while intravenous lines are inserted into a prisoner’s body protects the dignity of a prisoner, since witnesses are allowed to view the remainder of the execution. Additionally, the State failed to prove how allowing witnesses to view the initial procedures would threaten the anonymity of medical team members. Further, the State has knowingly failed to bring its execution procedure into compliance with the law as set forth in California First Amendment Coalition. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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