Longest jailed journalist in American history

This guest post was written by Rachel Sklar.

Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup refused to release freelance videographer Josh Wolf from jail, where he has been for 169 days since being imprisoned for refusing to turn over raw footage to a grand jury. Today, he becomes the longest-running imprisoned journalist in U.S. history.

Wolf, 24, was held in contempt of court in August 2006 for refusing to comply with a subpoena demanding the raw footage from aJuly 2005 protest in which a police officer was injured and allegations of vandalism of police property were made. Wolf's imprisonment for contempt, if uninterrupted, will run until the expiration of the Grand Jury in July 2007 -- even though all the underlying criminal charges relating to the incident have been dropped.

Wolf's motion requesting a new hearing was made last week on the argument that the jail term was obviously not going to change his mind and had now crossed over into the realm of criminal punishment in a case where, at this point, there wasn't even a potential criminal. Like that mattered. From the SF Chronicle:
Alsup denied release in a one-paragraph decision, citing a prosecutor's statement that Martin Garbus, Wolf's lawyer, had offered to turn over the tape in exchange for a promise that Wolf would not have to identify anyone who appeared on it. "This reveals a realistic possibility that Mr. Wolf's confinement may be having its coercive effect,'' the judge said.
The Chronicle reported that Garbus had actually suggested that as a possibility to bring to Wolf (i.e. no, his frame of mind has not changed), but actually, various compromise offers had earlier been made by the Wolf team thus far, offering the tape without Wolf's testimony; it's the Court that is refusing to budge. (Wolf has also told the court that the specific incident of vandalism alleged -- the attempt to set fire to a police car -- was not on the tape). In November, Wolf was denied bail.

Note that Wolf 's case has come before a Federal court rather than a state court, before which he would be protected by California's shield law (there is no federal shield law for journalists, as we learned during the case of Judy Miller). Note also that the burden of proving that the investigation is frivolous or in bad faith in this case has been put on Wolf -- a difficult and onerous burden, and the reverse of what is usually required where the deprivation of liberty is concerned (though you would think that pointing out that the event in question was not even on the tape would factor somewhat into the assessment). So torecap: A 24-year old videoblogger refuses to turn over footage that is probably not relevant in a case where there are no criminal charges, to be held until the second the grand jury compelling him expires, just in case he changes his mind. After that, after almost a year in prison, the longest-running imprisoned American journalist will be allowed to go home. It's so great when justice is served.

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