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Archive for Thursday, July 4, 2002

Earnhardt autopsy off limits

Judge reaffirms decision to keep photos private

July 4, 2002

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— A judge Wednesday upheld a Florida law restricting public access to autopsy photos that was being challenged by several newspapers.

The law was passed in March 2001 after the death of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash in the final lap of last year's Daytona 500.

"The right to privacy, the right to freedom of press and speech, the right of the people to have access to public records and the right to be left alone are important rights to all who live in this county," Circuit Judge Leroy Moe wrote in his order.

"They are not absolute rights, however, and they frequently clash, as they did in this case. The legislature has indeed applied a proper balancing of these rights in enacting this legislation."

State lawmakers passed the law at the urging of Earnhardt's widow, Teresa. The law has been challenged by newspapers, television stations and Web sites.

"We're really quite disappointed about the judge's ruling," said Orlando Sentinel attorney David Bralow. He said the newspaper will appeal.

The law makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for unauthorized persons to view or copy autopsy photos without a court order.

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