Thursday, December 17, 2009

Times-Pic Publishes Juvenile's Name: Ethical?

Posted By on Thu, Dec 17, 2009 at 8:44 PM

If you were startled to see the 14-year-old murder suspect’s name published in today’s The Times-Picayune, surrounding the murder of United Cab Co. driver Mahyar Kasravi, you weren’t alone. On the night of Dec. 8, Kasravi, 59, was shot and killed during an apparent botched robbery. Quintina Tolbert, 23, and two teenage boys have been arrested in the case.

“I was really shocked to see The Times-Picayune come out with a juvenile’s name like that,” New Orleans Police Department spokesman Bob Young says, adding that NOPD cannot legally release the names of juvenile suspects unless they are charged as adults by the district attorney’s office. In this case, the suspect has been arrested and is currently being held in the juvenile facility, but has not yet been charged.

Ramon Antonio Vargas, the TP staff writer who reported the story, says he obtained the suspect’s name during a public hearing in juvenile court, where Judge David Bell found there was probable cause to arrest all three suspects.

“If it’s in an open hearing and they’re identified there,” Vargas says, “then we do run the names.” Although that is the paper’s policy, it’s not a decision the TP takes lightly. Before the story ran, Vargas says he discussed the issue with Jim Amoss, the TP editor. According to the Louisiana Children’s Code, juvenile court proceedings are open to the public when it involves a violent crime.

Eden Heilman, a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center who has represented a number of juvenile defendants, says it is legal to publish the names of juvenile suspects. She also says, however, that juvenile court proceedings are supposed to be sealed and sentences are geared towards rehabilitating suspects as opposed to punishing them. If this particular suspect’s case remains in juvenile court, then Heilman feels publishing the boy’s name is a problem.

“He now has a very public label on his back,” Heilman says.

As for NOPD’s “shock,” at the TP’s publishing the name, Vargas is surprised by that reaction.

“I don’t why,” Vargas says. “It’s not the first time we’ve identified a juvenile murder suspect.”

So what do you think? Should the local media identify juvenile suspects that are accused of violent crimes? Does it matter if the suspect is charged in juvenile court or adult court?

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