Fla. Newspapers Appeal Earnhardt Law

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(AP) Two Tribune Co. newspapers in Florida have filed an appeal challenging the constitutionality of a law restricting access to autopsy photos.

The Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale filed a brief Wednesday in the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach challenging the constitutionality of the Family Protection Act, passed after Dale Earnhardt’s death.

Under the law, upheld by a circuit judge last July, unauthorized people who view or copy autopsy photos can be fined $5,000 for committing a felony. Proponents of the law say it protects families from seeing their relative’s autopsy photos published or placed on the Internet.

The newspapers argue that the law — which was championed by Earnhardt’s wife, Teresa — is too broad and will restrict the use of autopsy photos for teaching purposes.

Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, died on Feb. 18, 2001, when his car hit the wall on the final turn at the Daytona 500. Doctors said he died instantly from head injuries. An autopsy was performed the next day.

The Orlando Sentinel sought to have Earnhardt’s 33 autopsy photos examined by an independent safety expert to determine whether better safety equipment could have saved Earnhardt’s life. The newspaper said it never intended to publish the photos.

In July, the publishers of the Independent Florida Alligator, a student-run newspaper at the University of Florida, asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether the law is constitutional.

The court has not decided whether it will hear the case.

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