Justin Bieber’s penis took center stage in a public records hearing today to decide whether jail surveillance videos of the singer filmed at a police station after his arrest for alleged DUI in Miami Beach last month will be released to the media, or remain sealed from public view.
At the end of the hearing today which saw Bieber’s lawyers fight against lawyers arguing for news media organizations, it was decided the judge will review the jail videos in his chambers before making a decision on whether or not they are suitable for release.
“I am at this time ordering the Miami Beach Police Department not to disclose the records until such time as this court has made a decision,” Judge William Altfield ruled after an hour-long hearing, Reuters reports.
The next date for another hearing is March 4 in a Miami-Dade criminal county court, which has necessarily led to a cancellation of the March 3 trial start. Another date will be scheduled at a future hearing.
Bieber and R&B singer Khalil Amir Sharieff, both 19, were arrested for suspected DUI just after 4 am on January 23 during what police described as a “drag race” on a residential Miami Beach street. Justin drove a rented yellow Lamborghini, Khalil steered a red Ferrari.
Both were taken to Miami Beach Police Station for booking, tests, and processing after their arrest.
Lawyers for the singer, including Mark Shapiro and Howard Srebnick led by the famed Roy Black, appeared before Miami-Dade County Judge Altfield earlier today to ask that videos of Bieber “in various state of undress” showing “intimate parts of the singer’s body” while he was in custody at the station continue to be sealed.
Also at the hearing were Scott Ponce for the Miami Herald/CBS Miami and lawyers from other news media organizations arguing for the release of the videos. The media previously filed a motion Tuesday in Miami-Dade County Court stating the 19-year-old had no legal grounds to prevent the release of jail videos filmed at Miami Beach police station.
The media’s motion urged the judge to grant access to the police jail videos and stated The Associated Press would review the content to determine what — if any — would meet their standards for publication.
In court, for the defense, it was acknowledged that jail videos are public records but argued it would be “demeaning” to release video of the singer urinating while in custody.
Srebnick added it was, “simply not something the public has any right to view” and there was “no reason why the media should make a spectacle of that event, even if it happens to be someone who is high profile.”
During the hearing, the state represented by Juan Perez, agreed with the defense and the media that Judge Altfield should review the videos to determine whether or not they were releasable.
In court, Ponce bluntly asked, “The issue is do we see his [Bieber’s] penis or do we not not see his penis?”
He went on to state if the answer was “yes,” the singer’s penis should be blacked out but the rest should be released.
Ponce stated Bieber once posted a photo of his “butt while urinating” but now seeks privacy rights over the police station video.
Ponce said Bieber has posted photographs of himself with a bare bottom and another where he urinates online — IQ notes the latter video was reportedly filmed by a former friend of the singer without his knowledge and sold to TMZ.
“Then how can he come here and claim a right of privacy,” Ponce asked the court.
He went on to state, “I don’t think public has the right to see his penis” but said the public could see him urinating if his body parts were not shown by use of a redactive black bar across Bieber’s genitals.
At that point in the hearing, Srebnick replied, “I find the argument insulting and demeaning.”
There was no shortage of media lawyers in court today.
Deanna Shullman, representing CNN, AP, Sun Sentinel and others, argued,
“My clients have no interest in seeing Mr. Bieber’s penis,” but said video of Bieber urinating for urine analysis was relevant to the case and should be released under public records law.
In court documents Shullman wrote,”Florida courts have long recognized that government records are presumptively open, and that the Public Records Act is to be construed liberally in favour of access,”
Shullman continued, Florida courts, “reject the notion that simply alleging embarrassment alone is sufficient grounds to trump Public Records Act disclosure mandates.”
During the hearing it was revealed Bieber’s jail videos would in fact normally be exempt from disclosure under “criminal investigation,” but once turned over to the defense they become public records and are subject to requests for release under Florida Sunshine Law.
Now Judge Altfield will review videos and court documents – reportedly a “2-pound” stack of papers was submitted by the defense alone – before ruling on sealing or releasing the jail videos. For now, they remain sealed.
Previously, Bieber’s legal team filed a February 7 motion asking the judge to make an order prohibiting the public disclosure of custodial video tapes of the teen superstar, citing privacy exemptions under the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes to prevent “irreparable harm” before the public records hearing.
The motion followed the release of one video the day before by Miami Beach Police – after consulting with Miami prosecutors – showing Bieber getting a pat down by a police officer.
There are reportedly eight more unreleased Bieber videos, amounting to around ten hours of footage, of which four clips show the singer urinating for a drug test. The footage also shows him interacting with police.
Toxicology results later revealed the active ingredient of marijuana and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax were present in Bieber’s system at the time of his arrest, but his blood alcohol levels were below Florida’s 0.02 legal limit for under 21’s.
The office of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle previously denied AP’s request for the videos pending the hearing outcome.
As absurd as it sounds the fate of Bieber’s penis, in terms of its public disclosure during one of the most intimate, private acts a human being can engage in, now rests on one judge who will decide whether the public will share that act or not.
Notably, this debate wouldn’t even be on the table if the defendant was female, or wasn’t a celebrity, which says a great deal about the fallacy of equality under the law.
Bieber pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of DUI, resisting arrest without violence, and driving with an expired license in writing on January 29.
A note of thanks to David Ovalle, a Miami Herald court reporter who live tweeted the hearing.