The state attorney asked a court to decide whether he can pursue criminal charges against media outlets that published or broadcast the name of the woman who accused William Kennedy Smith of raping her.
Palm Beach County State Attorney David Bludworth also said Thursday he expected to decide within three weeks whether to charge Smith with rape incident last month at the Kennedy Palm Beach estate. Smith, the nephew of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has denied any wrongdoing.Bludworth said he was reviewing the reporting of the woman's name by NBC News, The New York Times and other news organizations.
A 1911 Florida law makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to publish or broadcast names of rape victims. Violations are punishable by up to 60 days in jail and fines up to $500.
The law is still on the books, a spokesman for the Florida attorney general said. However, a 1989 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court left its status in doubt.
Ruling in a civil damage suit filed by a rape victim against the Florida Star in Jacksonville, the justices said it was not a crime to publish rape victims' names so long as the information was obtained legally.
NBC issued a statement from its New York headquarters Thursday saying, "NBC has studied the Florida statute and the analysis of the statute by the Supreme Court as well as other constitutional decisions. NBC is confident that its editorial decision to air the name of the rape victim is consistent with the protections afforded by the Constitution."
The New York Times said once the network had broadcast the woman's name, "it became ineffective" for the newspaper to shield her privacy.
Additionally, the Times said, "We believe that the decision of whether truthful information should be published must be made by editors, and not the government."
Bludworth said he believes "the name should only be made public when it becomes part of the official record or when the victim agrees with a request to permit the name to be public."
Police released their report on the rape allegation April 12, but blacked out the woman's name.
Bludworth said publishing victims' names discourages rape victims from reporting the crime to police. Additionally, he said, some published reports have included personal information that goes far beyond the scope of the investigation.