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Power of the press

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News Hits would love to take credit for making state legislators reconsider a couple cockamamie laws passed last month. But the much-deserved praise goes to Oakland Press reporters John Wisely and Stephen W. Huber. Their stories — and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s threat to sue — prompted state legislators to reconsider two laws that allow police and courts to conceal information in search warrants.

Public Act 112 says that a judge or magistrate can suppress the affidavit — which contains the reasons for the search — from the person whose property is searched or seized; police officers also are not required to show affidavits to those searched. Public Act 128 makes all search warrants and affidavits nonpublic.

Wisely discovered the new laws when he asked to review a search warrant in an Oakland County district court on April 22. The following two days, stories appeared in the Oakland Press that included criticism from civil libertarians who deemed the laws unconstitutional. After the articles appeared, other media around the state ran editorials and stories critical of the new laws.

Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan legal director, says that his group considered suing. But following the uproar, state lawmakers agreed to change the legislation.

State Rep. Nancy Cassis, R-Northville, who co-sponsored one of the laws, says they will be amended to allow public review of warrants and affidavits after charges have been brought against the accused or have been dropped. Police also will be required to show search warrants to those being served, she says.

The original intent of both laws was to protect domestic-violence victims, whose names and whereabouts are contained in affidavits, says Cassis. But when terrorists attacked Sept. 11, the laws became part of an anti-terrorism package.

Wisely just wants the Legislature to act. “The bottom line is the law is what the law is,” he says. “And until they change it, I can’t get my search warrant.”

Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at amullen@metrotimes.com

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