Seasoned criminal defense attorneys learn that ensuring that a person accused of a crime gets a fair criminal trial with an impartial jury panel may call for fighting against more than just the prosecutors. Sometimes, as in a Kentucky case that involves allegations of illegal bourbon and steroids, keeping evidence under wraps and away from the press might pit the rights of the accused against freedom of the press.
The Kentucky criminal case includes allegations that a distillery worker illegally acquired and sold different brands of bourbons while also trafficking in illegal steroids. Attorneys for a newspaper are asking a judge to unseal the evidence submitted to the court and to the defense as part of the discovery process.
Defense attorneys representing the accused individuals facing felony charges claim that unsealing the evidence will make it difficult, if not impossible, to select jurors who are impartial to sit in judgment. The nature of the criminal charge faced by each of the defendants ensured that the criminal allegations got maximum media exposure.
At the heart of the controversy surrounding the sealing of the records is the issue of the public’s right to have access to records in criminal cases. The newspaper seeking to have access to the records is arguing that a hearing is required under Kentucky law and court decisions on the continued denial of public access.
Prosecutors have stated publicly that unsealing the records would not be a problem for them. They point out that evidence against defendants who have already entered guilty pleas is already available to the public, so releasing additional evidence would not have a significant impact on the ability of the defendants to get a fair criminal trial. Some of the criminal defense attorneys looking out for their clients disagree.
Source: The Courier-Journal, “C-J seeks access to bourbon heist evidence,” Gregory A. Hall, June 24, 2015