Wilson v. Layne

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May 24, 1999

The US Supreme Court ruled in Wilson v. Layne that media entry into a home with the police during the execution of a search warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. In this case, a Washington Post reporter and photographer observed the five police officers enter a home in search of a suspect. The suspect turned out not to be there, but in the process of finding that out the police pinned his underwear-clad father to the floor, mistakenly believing him to be the suspect. The Post photographer took pictures of that, as well as the reaction of the mother who appeared dressed in her nightgown, though none of the pictures were published. According to the summary of the court's decision:

"Taken in their entirety, the reasons advanced by respondents to support the reporters’ presence – publicizing the government’s efforts to combat crime, facilitating accurate reporting on law enforcement activities, minimizing police abuses, and protecting suspects and the officers–fall short of justifying media ride-alongs. Although the presence of third parties during the execution of a warrant may in some circumstances be constitutionally permissible, the presence of these third parties was not."

A second decision on the same day, Hanlon v. Berger, involved CNN's recording of a search on a ranch, though not in the home. It was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the decision in Wilson v. Layne. The closest Canadian decision to this is R. v. West, decided in December 1997 by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Leave to appeal that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada was not sought.

See:Wilson v. Layne

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