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Posted by: Amelia Ferrell Knisely on Mar 17, 2016

Court: TN Supreme Court

Attorneys 1:

Robb S. Harvey and Lauran M. Sturm, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellants, The Tennessean, Associated Press, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Knoxville News Sentinel, Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, Inc., The Commercial Appeal, WBIR-TV Channel Ten, WSMV-TV Channel Four, WTVF-TV, News Channel 5 Network, LLC, and WZTV Fox 17.

Attorneys 2:

Saul Solomon, James L. Charles, Lora Barkenbus Fox, R. Alex Dickerson, Jennifer Cavanaugh, and Jennifer Bonilla Moreno, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

Edward M. Yarbrough and J. Alex Little, Nashville, Tennessee, for the intervenor/appellee, Jane Doe.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Janet M. Kleinfelter, Deputy Attorney General, for the intervenors/appellees, District Attorney General Glenn R. Funk and the State of Tennessee.

Richard L. Hollow, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Tennessee Press Association.

Douglas R. Pierce, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and The University of Virginia School of Law First Amendment Clinic.

Devin P. Lyon, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, Tennessee Municipal Attorneys Association and International Municipal Lawyers Association.

Edmund S. Sauer, Kristi W. Arth, Connor M. Blair, and Jessica Jernigan-Johnson, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amici Curiae, National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 

The Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, The National Crime Victim Law Institute, and the Sexual Assault Center.

Daniel A. Horwitz, Nashville, Tennessee, for the Amicus Curiae, Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention Advocates.

Judge(s): LEE

The issue in this case is whether a coalition of media groups and a citizens organization, relying on the Tennessee Public Records Act, have the right to inspect a police department‘s criminal investigative file while the criminal cases arising out of the investigation are ongoing. Four Vanderbilt University football players were indicted for aggravated rape and other criminal charges arising out of the alleged rape of a university student in a campus dormitory. Following the indictments, the Petitioners, a group of media organizations and a citizens group, made a Public Records Act request to inspect the police department‘s files regarding its investigation of the alleged criminal conduct by the football players. The request was denied. We hold that the Public Records Act allows access to government records, but there are numerous statutory exceptions, including a state law exception in Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-503(a)(2), that shield some records from disclosure. Rule 16 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure falls within the state law exception. Rule 16 provides for the release of certain information to the defendant in a criminal case, but does not authorize the release of any information to a nonparty to the case. Therefore, during the pendency of the criminal case and any collateral challenges to any conviction, Rule 16 governs the disclosure of information and only the defendant has the right to receive certain information. We hold that, based on Rule 16, the Petitioners have no right to the requested information during the pendency of the criminal cases and any collateral challenges. Jane Doe, the victim of the alleged criminal acts, intervened in this action to prevent disclosure of the investigative file, and particularly photographs and video images of the alleged assault. Based on our ruling today, these records are protected from disclosure until the conclusion of the criminal cases and all collateral challenges. At the conclusion of the criminal cases and following any guilty plea or conviction and sentencing, Tennessee Code Annotated section 10-7-504(q)(1) applies to block the release of Ms. Doe‘s personal information and any photographic or video depiction of her. This requires no action on the part of Ms. Doe and no further court proceedings.