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What Is a Gag Order?

Gag orders are used to protect the jurors from outside influence.
Gag orders are usually used in a legal context when a judge wants to keep a trial as fair as possible.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2014
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A gag order or suppression order is a formal directive which forbids people from discussing something publicly. Gag orders are usually used in a legal context when a judge wants to keep a trial as fair as possible by limiting public discussion as the trial occurs, to avoid influencing jurors and witnesses. Private organizations, companies, and institutions can also use gag orders to control the flow of information.

In the case of a gag order which pertains to a legal trial, the order is issued by a judge. The order may ban people involved in a case, such as lawyers, witnesses, and jurors, from discussing the case publicly, and it can also ban media reporting on the case. Gag orders are usually used when a judge is concerned that a case is so sensational that it will be difficult for the defendant to get a fair trial otherwise. Public discussion and opinion can sway the outcome of a legal case if a trial garners a great deal of attention, and this conflicts with judicial values which state that evidence should be considered impartially.

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People may chafe against a gag order mandated by a court. If they violate the order, they can be subject to legal penalties such as fines or even imprisonment. Gag orders can also be enforced with techniques such as jury sequestering, in which members of the jury are kept in private and secure locations for the duration of the trial so that they cannot be influenced by people on the outside.

In the case of a gag order issued by a private organization, the organization usually cannot compel the media not to report on something unless it can demonstrate, in court, that the media's reporting is erroneous and harmful. However, it can obligate employees and representatives to obey a gag order as part of the terms of employment, as when people sign nondisclosure agreements before working on the development of secret projects.

Sometimes, people comply with a gag order as a courtesy, not because they are legally obligated to do so. In 2009, for example, the New York Times attracted a great deal of controversy when it revealed that it had colluded with other news media to keep the kidnapping of a journalist secret for seven months. The organization argued that the secrecy was designed to protect the journalist and increase the chances of a positive outcome in negotiations with the kidnappers, but some people cried foul, arguing that concealing such information had potentially dangerous implications.

The gag order is certainly not without controversy. Many people feel that these legal orders are a form of censorship and that they can be used as a tool to prevent members of the public from accessing information which may be important or of interest.

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Discuss this Article

anon944058
Post 3

My daughter goes to a daycare center and one of the employees has a gag order. Should I be worried? Or can it be something harmless?

anon321043
Post 2

Or a judge can issue a gag order to a suspect's friends and family to prevent the suspect from knowing that he is being investigated.The U.S. Marshals have been using this method since 2008.

Usually, the gag order mentions what the suspect is being investigated for and anyone who comes in contact with the suspect will become part of the investigation. The contactee is also told that he or she should not reveal that the suspect is under an investigation and should refrain from communicating with the suspect.

anon308220
Post 1

A family member is involved in a situation where an institution has put a gag order in place, apparently to prevent people from posting online and demonstrating in front of their business. The person has no way to tell of the wrongdoing going on, so they get away with it. How can this be fair?

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