Since 1999 students at Northwestern University’s Medill Innocence Project have investigated murder cases that resulted in death sentences or life without parole. To date, their efforts helped free 12 wrongfully accused men.
Now however, a Chicago judge has ruled that the students are not acting as investigative reporters protected by state shield laws, but rather as part of the defense team and therefore must reveal their notes and sources under the rules of discovery.
A judge in Chicago is ordering Northwestern University to turn over to prosecutors more than 500 emails between a high-profile professor and his investigative journalism students.
The students were part of the school’s Medill Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate and free a dozen men convicted of murders they did not commit.
In this particular case, though, the judge ruled that the students weren’t acting as journalists, protected by the Illinois reporter’s privilege law, but as investigators for the defense.
There are concerns that if the ruling stands, it could have a chilling effect on the work of journalism students across the country.
The school has until September 21 to file and appeal.