The high court did not weigh in on whether the gag order, which prohibits attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and others involved in the case from talking to the news media, violates the First Amendment rights of a free press. Instead, the unanimous Idaho Supreme Court justices said the news organizations should have brought their request to the magistrate judge who issued the gag order.
“This Court has long respected the media’s role in our constitutional republic, and honored the promises in both the Idaho Constitution and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Justice Gregory Moeller wrote in the decision, going on to quote a ruling from a federal case that said responsible press coverage, “guards against the miscarriage of justice” by subjecting the court system and those who are a part of it to public scrutiny.
Still, Moeller wrote, the balancing act between the First Amendment protections afforded to the press and the Sixth Amendment fair trial rights promised to defendants has become increasingly difficult with the advent of the internet and social media.
Though those are “well-guarded rights,” Moeller said, news organizations who wish to challenge gag orders should start at the lower courts and work their way up to the state’s highest judicial bench, rather than approaching the Supreme Court first.
Bryan Kohberger, 28, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and burglary in connection with the stabbing deaths in Moscow, Idaho. Prosecutors have yet to reveal if they intend to seek the death penalty.
The bodies of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin were found on Nov. 13, 2022, at a rental home across the street from the University of Idaho campus. The slayings shocked the rural Idaho community and neighboring Pullman, Washington, where Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at Washington State University.
The case garnered widespread publicity, and in January Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued the sweeping gag order, barring attorneys, law enforcement agencies and others associated with the case from talking or writing about it.