Court Rules Public Has Access to Sex Offender Hearings

An appeals court has ruled the public cannot be excluded from a courtroom when a judge is considering whether a sex offender should be committed indefinitely after his prison sentence has expired.

The unanimous ruling this week by three judges on the Fourth District Court of Appeals upholds a Broward County circuit judge who, in January, ruled NBC 6 was allowed to attend and record a hearing involving a convicted sexual predator. 

Judge Jack Tuter gave NBC 6 permission to bring a camera into the courtroom. 

But the attorney for Corey Lake, a sexually violent sexual predator whose 13-year prison sentence expired in 2012, objected. Assistant public defender Rob Jakovich argued details of confidential treatment records would be exposed in open court, unless the public was barred.

But Tuter ruled nothing in the law allowed him to close the entire proceedings to the media and, by extension, the public.

The appellate court agreed, saying, "The public has a great interest in the circumstances that justify the release of one who has been designated a sexually violent predator."

Because Lake was seeking to prove he deserves to be released from the civil commitment center for sexually violent predators, he "does not have the same expectation of privacy of an ordinary citizen in his medical records," the court found, adding "Lake's limited privacy interest in the treatment record is dwarfed by the strong presumption of openness in court proceedings."

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