Violent crime in prison system is a matter of public significance, court rules
In late February the state Supreme Court in Columbia held that a rape victim whose name was published by a newspaper could not sue the newspaper for invasion of privacy because the crime was an event of public interest.
The victim sued The Berkeley Independent after the newspaper identified him as the victim of a sexual assault in the Berkeley County jail.
n July 1992, a man later identified in court documents only as "John Doe" was arrested for allegedly dousing a woman with gasoline and setting fire to her mobile home. He was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill, kidnapping, burglary and arson, though a grand jury later refused to indict him for the crimes.
While Doe was being held in the Berkeley County jail, he was sexually assaulted by another inmate. A woman who identified herself as the sister of Doe's alleged victim called Allen Morris, the editor of The Berkeley Independent, and informed him that Doe had been "beaten up" in jail. Morris then talked to an official at the sheriff's department, who confirmed that an incident report indicated that Doe had been sexually assaulted in jail.
The newspaper published an article about Doe's arrest and another article about the jailhouse rape. The article on the sexual assault identified Doe by his actual name, revealing that he was the victim of the assault.
Doe sued the newspaper for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress in a state circuit court in Moncks Corner. The newspaper responded that, because its story was accurate, based on lawfully-obtained information, and concerning a matter of legitimate public interest, the publication was privileged and thus protected from Doe's lawsuit.
After hearing evidence from both sides, the court directed a verdict in favor of the newspaper on both of Doe's claims. Doe appealed the court's decision regarding the invasion of privacy claim but did not appeal the directed verdict against his emotional distress claim.
On appeal to the state appellate court in Columbia, Doe argued that the Independent illegally obtained his name in violation of the state's rape shield statute and that the assault was not a matter of public significance. He did not question …