Lawyers for a teen defendant facing the death penalty are asking a judge to prevent the news media from further reporting on a jailhouse tattoo on his forehead.
The unusual motion for limited restrictive order was filed this week in the case of Allan Robert Dickie, a 19-year-old from Pasadena, Md., who is charged with murder, rape and kidnapping in the August stabbing death of 37-year-old Claudia Toppin.
District Attorney Lee Darragh filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Dickie last month.
In a motion filed in Hall County Superior Court Wednesday, Georgia Capital Defender attorneys Doug Ramseur and Joseph Vigneri wrote that articles about the case in "a local newspaper" have contained "highly prejudicial materials."
Two articles in The Times have made note of the tattoo, which reads "IT," preceded by a four-
letter obscenity. Dickie got the tattoo sometime after he was jailed, and it is plainly visible in a mug shot taken when he was charged with setting fire to a shirt in the Hall County jail. The tattoo had faded somewhat by the time he appeared in court late last month.
Dickie’s attorneys argued in their motion that reporting on the tattoo "is prejudicial in the extreme" to potential jurors who might read the news reports.
"It is just as patently obvious that this tattoo, in and of itself, has no bearing whatsoever on the facts of the case," the motion states.
Restrictive orders, also known as gag orders, are routinely granted in high-profile cases, but usually direct parties not to talk to members of the news media about a case.
Lawyers are asking Superior Court Judge Jason Deal to issue an order that would restrict the media from reporting, "in words or images," about any of Dickie’s tattoos.
Lee Levine, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University who is considered an expert on First Amendment issues as they relate to the news media, said the motion as described to him was "pretty unusual."
Levine, author of "Newsgathering and the Law," said he couldn’t imagine a circumstance in which such a motion would be granted.
"The law is about as clear as it can be that judges cannot enter orders prohibiting the press from publishing information except in the very most extraordinary circumstances."
A 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Nebraska case generally prevents courts from telling news gathering organizations what they can and cannot report, known in legal terms as "prior restraint."
"It is virtually unheard of for any judge to impose a prior restraint on the media in these circumstances," Levine said.
Deal has not set a hearing date on the motion.
The motion also asked the judge to prevent the news media from reporting on the motion. No such order had been issued by press time.