Archive for Saturday, July 13, 2002

Appeals court rules in favor of Earnhardts

July 13, 2002

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— A state appeals court ruled Friday that Florida's law restricting public access to autopsy photos is constitutional, but certified the matter to state Supreme Court for potential further review.

The law, which 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, was being challenged by the Independent Florida Alligator, which is published by Campus Communications.

In its opinion, the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach said the viewing of autopsy photos is a violation of privacy.

"The Florida Constitution gives every citizen the right to inspect and copy public record so that all may have the opportunity to see and know how the government functions," Judge Thomas D. Sawaya wrote in the opinion. "It is also a declared constitutional principle that every individual has a right of privacy."

The appeals court opinion was similar to one filed last week by a Florida circuit judge in South Florida.

In a statement, Dale Earnhardt's widow, Teresa Earnhardt, said she was pleased with the court rulings.

"We are relieved that the court of appeal has upheld rights dear to us and all the citizens of Florida," she said.

The appeals court certified the case to the Florida Supreme Court. Tom Julin, the attorney for the Independent Florida Alligator, said no decision has been made about pursuing the case before that court.

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