U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Production company subpoenaed for documentary footage in criminal case

Incident Details

Date of Incident
October 18, 2021
Chicago, Illinois

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
October 18, 2021

Painless Television, Inc., a California-based production company, was issued a subpoena by the state’s attorney of Cook County for unaired documentary footage as part of a wrongful-conviction hearing in Chicago, Illinois, on Oct. 18, 2021.

An attorney for the media company, Steven Mandell, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker the subpoena requested both published and unpublished footage from an episode of “Reasonable Doubt,” which aired on Investigation Discovery. The episode investigated assertions that Roosevelt Myles was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1996, and included interviews with his family members and neighbors, including a witness who claimed he could provide Myles an alibi. The episode aired in May 2020 and Myles was released from prison that July. The subpoena was issued by an assistant state’s attorney as part of the post-conviction hearing discovery process.

Mandell said Painless Television produced the documentary for Discovery Channel, which was itself subpoenaed in July 2021. The Tracker has documented that subpoena here.

“One of the things that the prosecutor did was not only ask for the as-broadcast version of the program but also any outtakes, including any footage of witnesses that were not broadcast,” Mandell said. “In response, the producers at Discovery were willing to give the as-broadcast version but maintained — appropriately in my view — that the outtakes were protected by the shield law.”

Discovery and Painless Television are headquartered in New York and California, respectively, states that have some of the strongest shield laws for members of the press in the country, Mandell said. Illinois, on the other hand, has a qualified privilege meaning that it can be overcome or “divested” under certain circumstances.

“We argued that if there’s a public interest involved it’s to protect the press,” Mandell said. “One of the roles the press plays is to shine a light on government, not to assist or facilitate government action. To preserve the flow of information from confidential or even non-confidential sources, the press has to assert its privilege and not be viewed as an arm or an instrument of the police.”

On June 27, 2022, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Carol Howard struck down the subpoenas against both Discovery and Painless Television. According to a court transcript reviewed by the Tracker, Howard found that the state’s attorney had failed to meet the requirements to overcome the reporter’s privilege.

“The State has not set forth the specific information that is sought and why that information is relevant to the proceedings. The State cannot say with any amount of specificity exactly what they are seeking,” Howard said. “And the State simply has not met the third requirement that requires you to exhaust all available sources of the information.”

Painless Television did not respond to messages requesting comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].