Media organizations fire back at motion in McCraney case

Local News

OZARK, Ala. (WDHN) — Four different media organizations have issued a response to a claim that they have no legal standing to intervene in the pre-trial publicity hearing in the Coley McCraney case.

The response, signed by attorney Dennis R. Bailey, states that the prosecution’s claim that the media’s right to intervene is irrelevant in criminal cases is challenged by existing common law.

First, the media’s intervention is not related to the criminal element of McCraney’s trial, which deals with the deaths of teenagers J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett.

“The relief sought involves the protection of First Amendment civil rights of the press and public to attend criminal proceedings, as well as, under the protection of Art. 1, § 13 of the Alabama Constitution,” Bailey wrote.

That section of the constitution states that all courts should be open to allow those who suffer injury to “him, in his lands, goods, person, or reputation” will have a remedy through due process. However, it does not provide a specific law that exactly describes a case like this.

Bailey’s response acknowledges the lack of a “direct mechanism” for intervention in state and federal criminal cases, but it does provide four court cases that are said to invite and allow intervention by the media to maintain public access to records.

The first, Ex parte Birmingham News Co. Inc., states that the media “generally have standing to intervene in a criminal proceeding” when a motion is made to seal records are a matter of public information.

The case also states that pretrial motions for closure must be filed in advance to give the press and general public “an opportunity to intervene and present their objections to the court.”

The three other cases cited in Bailey’s response, all from the federal Eleventh Circuit, also provided the press standing for intervention, although there is no specific mechanism for federal criminal cases.

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