The recent unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in Wilson v. Layne was not about restriction of the press on ride-along programs ["Police Can Be Sued for Letting Media See Raids," news story, May 25]. It's about what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor called "an amazing invasion of privacy." The court ruled that U.S. marshals violated the Wilson family's basic Fourth Amendment rights when they invited the press inside the Wilson's home and allowed the press to take photographs of the Wilsons in their undergarments while the marshals attempted to locate and arrest their son.
The court's ruling should not discourage responsible media ride-along programs or chill freedom of the press, as media lawyer Lee Levine and defendant Ray Kight, Montgomery County sheriff, suggested in the news story. When defenders of the press adopt such rhetoric in the face of compelling countervailing privacy concerns, it defeats their own cause. It appears arrogant, and the public becomes suspicious of other, more legitimate, arguments concerning freedom of the press.
The court merely restated what should have been obvious to reasonable law enforcement officials: While police officers have limited authority to enter a private home without permission to make an arrest, that authority does not extend to others unless they are there in aid of the arrest. No legal precedent extends this special police privilege to the press. As the court made clear, members of the press and others are free to accompany law enforcement officers on public property.
As one of the American Civil Liberties Union volunteer attorneys on this case, I also am deeply committed to the preservation of the First Amendment. I can assure The Post's readers that we elected to pursue the case because its privacy issues far outweigh any incidental impact on press activities. In this age of instant communications, privacy issues take on new importance. Innocent bystanders such as the Wilsons can all too easily become the victims of a police desire for publicity and press competition for dramatic footage.
The Wilsons have pursued this case since 1992 against the powerful interests of both the federal government and the press establishment. All citizens who value their privacy rights should appreciate their courage and perseverance.
The writer is counsel for Geraldine and Charles Wilson.