Public Access Protected In Minnesota Officer Involved Shooting

JOOTB_FinalA Minnesota criminal case arising from an officer involved shooting will remain open to the public, despite efforts by the state to restrict access to filings.  The presumption that criminal trials are open to the public prevailed.

Ryan Londregan is a Minnesota state trooper who's been charged with second-degree unintentional murder, second-degree manslaughter, and first-degree assault in the fatal shooting of Ricky Cobb during a traffic stop on Interstate 94 in Minneapolis on July 31, 2023.  The case has drawn a decent amount of publicity in the Minneapolis area. 

The state filed a motion asking that newly filed motions and exhibits be restricted from public access for two days, to give the parties the ability to oppose public disclosure.  According to the state, this process was needed to avoid unfair prejudice.  The state argued that pretrial filings could highlight protected or inadmissible evidence, and  public disclosure would risk a fair trial.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune and a media coalition opposed the motion. 

The Court denied the motion for several reasons.  First, the while the Court acknowledged that while there'd been media coverage of the case, that publicity was not so extensive as to create a serious concern of irreparably tainting the jury pool.  As the court noted "coverage of this case has not saturated the public sphere; even if some inadmissible or prejudicial evidence becomes public, it is unlikely to be so persuasive as to prevent the Court from selecting a fair and unbiased jury."  Inherent in the court's ruling on this point is that pretrial publicity in itself does not mandate shutting down public access.  A court should only take that step if there is evidence that it would be impossible to seat a fair jury.  That is admittedly a high standard for a party to meet when seeking closure, but that is the law. 

The Court also found that the remedy – restricted access to all filings – was too broad.  The state contended that suppression motions – where the parties sought to restrict admission of evidence – would discuss that inadmissible evidence necessitated the closure order.  But as the Court noted, the state sought to restrict access to all filings in the case, not just to suppression motions.  Thus, the requested remedy encompassed more material than necessary.  Parties seeking closure should take note.  The requested remedy needs to be "narrowly tailored"  --  a lose fit isn't sufficient. 

As in many instances when the state tries to restrict public access to criminal proceedings, the motion was an overreaction and an overreach.  Officer Londregan will no doubt receive a fair trial, and the public will be able to monitor.  All is well in Minnesota.

About The Author

Jack Greiner | Faruki Partner