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What Is a Gag Order?

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

Florida prosecutors are again seeking a gag order in George Zimmerman's murder case, reports the Orlando Sentinel. It's the second time prosecutors have sought a gag order against Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, prompting many to wonder just what is a gag order?

In general, a gag order is a court order to gag or bind an unruly defendant (or his attorney) from interrupting the trial or court process. Oftentimes, in high-profile cases like the Zimmerman trial, a court will issue a gag order against attorneys to not discuss the case with the media.

The purpose of a gag order is to essentially ensure a fair and unbiased trial.

In the Zimmerman case, prosecutors sought a gag order against O'Mara because they believe he is making biased comments about the evidence in the press, thereby tainting the jury pool, reports the Sentinel.

O'Mara countered that when he took on the case, the jury pool was already tainted as Trayvon Martin's family and attorneys allegedly tried to turn the case into a national story by discussing it with the media, writes the Sentinel.

A judge will typically have to weigh the free speech rights of the person sought to be "gagged" against the potential damage caused by the person's speech in determining whether to issue a gag order.

There are several types of gag orders that a court may order. Most commonly, the court may attempt to control prejudicial publicity by restricting the information that trial participants can give to the press both before and during a trial. This is the type of gag order sought in the Zimmerman case.

Previously, courts had also issued gag orders restricting the press from reporting certain facts regarding a trial. However, as many courts consider this type of gag order to violate the First Amendment's free speech protections, such orders are generally no longer approved.

In George Zimmerman's case, the judge did not rule on prosecutors' gag order request after a hearing on Friday, USA Today reports. Zimmerman's trial date has been set for June 10, 2013.

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