U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Texas judge vacates order limiting murder trial coverage

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 9, 2023
Waco, Texas

Prior Restraint

Status of Prior Restraint
Mistakenly Released Materials?
January 9, 2023

A judge in Waco, Texas, issued a sweeping gag order on Jan. 9, 2023, restricting media coverage ahead of a retrial in a murder case. The order was vacated two days later after attorneys for local broadcaster KWTX successfully argued that it amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint, the outlet reported.

Judge David Hodges’ order prohibited the press from reporting on basic facts about the case, including testimony or evidence from the initial trial in 2015, that it resulted in a conviction, the fact that the case was reversed or the reason behind the reversal. It also barred any reporting on any pretrial rulings in the case.

The case — which was set to begin on Jan. 9 — was postponed citing concerns that there would not be insufficient jurors from which to select a jury, according to KWTX.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported that the gag order forced it to hold its reporting on the postponement.

Attorneys for CBS-affiliate KWTX sent a three-page letter to the court arguing against the order the same day it was issued, according to the outlet. KWTX Vice President and General Manager Josh Young declined to comment when reached by email.

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the outlet that the order would have infringed on First Amendment rights and Hodges was right to lift the restrictions on the press.

“Journalists have a right — and a duty — to cover what’s going on at the courthouse to keep the public informed,” Shannon said. “It’s understandable that the judge wants to ensure a fair trial and try to select a local jury, but attempting to restrain what the news media reports is not the answer.”

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