In Texas, it is not uncommon for judges to issue gag orders in high-profile criminal cases. But what exactly is a gag order and why are they necessary? In this article, we will discuss gag orders in Texas, their purpose, and the consequences of violating one.
A gag order is a court order that prohibits the parties in a criminal case from publicly discussing the details with the news media or the public. That means those associated with the case, including attorneys, witnesses, and the defendant, cannot make extrajudicial, out-of-court public statements about the case until the trial is over.
The purpose of a gag order is to prevent information about the case from becoming tainted or biased before it reaches the jury. If potential jurors are exposed to statements made by those involved in the case, it could impact their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict. In addition, gag orders help ensure that both the prosecution and defense have a level playing field during trial.
Gag orders in Texas can be requested by the prosecution or defense, but judges can also decide to issue one on their own. In most cases, the decision will be made based on how high-profile the case is and whether there is a risk that public statements could influence the jury.
To justify a gag order, the court must make specific judicial findings, consider less drastic alternatives, and narrowly tailor the order to address the identified harm. For example, in a recent high profile case in Tarrant County involving a police officer accused of fatally shooting a woman inside her home, the gag order contained the following findings:
“The court finds that out-of-court statements relating to the investigation and pretrial matters of this cause pose a serious and imminent threat to the Defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial, the ability of the Court to maintain a fair and impartial jury, and to the fair administration of justice. The court further finds that other less restrictive means will not adequately protect the Defendant’s right to a fair trial and the interest in the State and the Defendant in a fair and impartial jury.”
The gag order can apply to anyone who is participating in the case, including but not limited to:
Let’s look at the same high-profile case in Tarrant County referenced above. A gag order was issued ahead of the trial of Aaron Dean, a former police officer accused of killing Atatiana Jefferson inside her home. The judge issued a gag order that prohibited “any attorney participating in, or any attorney associated with the trial of this cause, their office associates, assistants, staff members, investigators and employees under their supervision, as well as the defendant and any personnel of the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office” from making an extrajudicial statement.
Click here to read the gag order in its entirety.
A gag order shouldn’t be overreaching and prohibit parties from speaking to the media entirely. An attorney or other person subject to the order would not be prohibited from reciting, without comment, the information contained in public records, such as the time or date of a hearing, or the general nature of the proceedings.
If someone violates a gag order in Texas, they could be held in contempt of court. In Texas, contempt of court is punishable by up to six months in the county jail and a maximum $500 fine.
The judge presiding over the high-profile case can lift the gag order at any time. However, once the trial has concluded, the parties will be free to discuss the case.
We hope you found this information about gag orders in Texas helpful. Our team has handled numerous high-profile cases over the years, first as prosecutors and now as highly-regarded defense attorneys. If you have questions or comments about gag orders in Texas, feel free to leave a reply below. If you or a loved one has been arrested or accused of a crime in North Texas, call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with an experienced attorney.