Jan. 6, 2016 11:52 AM

Anyone who values a robust press and the First Amendment that enables it should be wary of Lafayette District Judge Laurie Hulin’s reported plan to hold local members of the press in contempt if they publish photos or air video of an accused child murderer wearing a prison jumpsuit or handcuffed and/or shackled at the ankles. C’est what, yer-ahner?!

According to The Advocate, Hulin’s planned restrictions on local media came out of a Nov. 18 pretrial hearing for Landon Broussard, the man facing the death penalty for the alleged 2012 sexual assault and beating death of his former girlfriend’s 3-year-old son. Broussard’s attorneys argued at the hearing — and Hulin evidently agreed — that such images of Broussard in prison garb and shackles could prejudice a jury. Yet accused killers — in Lafayette and everywhere else within the American legal system — are routinely depicted in stripes and chains before trial.

The Advocate’s Billy Gunn spoke with media-law experts who sounded a common refrain: Hulin’s move is at the very least unusual and concerning, if not a violation of the press’ First Amendment rights — doubly so, it could be argued, if those images or video of an inmate-attired Broussard were captured before Hulin prohibited them, in which case the judge is effectively barring media from using their own creative property.

We understand the desire to ensure a fair trail for an accused killer, and we recognize that it’s not uncommon for judges to place gag orders on proceedings related to high-profile murder cases, but Hulin’s threat against the press is, to our memory, unprecedented in Lafayette. And, moreover, is a standard mugshot of a defendant in which he is wearing a widely recognized orange jumpsuit any more prejudicial than what Hulin wants to prohibit?

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable for Hulin to demand protocols from the sheriff’s office for how it transports the accused to the parish courthouse? At the very least, if court officials are worried that they cannot seat a jury that hasn’t been tainted by seeing pictures or video of Broussard in a jail jumpsuit and shackles, they have a well-worn option: move the trial to another parish.

Read Gunn’s report here.


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