A ruling in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court this Monday has ordered the Santa Barbara Independent to relinquish over 300 photographs taken of a murder scene in March or face charges of contempt.

The paper has decided to appeal this decision and prerequisite litigation is set to begin Nov. 29. Paul Wellman, the Independent photographer who took the pictures in question, will face contempt proceedings that same day. According to a report issued by the Independent, while Wellman might face detainment during the appeal process, the court will likely defer any jail time.

Fourteen-year-old Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez was arraigned last month for allegedly murdering Luis Angel Linares, 15. The alleged crime occurred during a gang brawl downtown on March 14. Juarez’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Karen Atkins, subpoenaed the Independent’s photos in an effort to present evidence unavailable in other media, the report said.

Michael Cooney, the attorney representing the Independent against Atkin’s subpoena, contested that the paper did not have to turn over its unpublished pictures because it is protected by California’s Reporter’s Shield Law — legislation that protects journalists from most contempt charges. According to the state code, however, the shield law is overridden in cases when the protected information may “materially assist the defense” insofar that the defendant’s right to a fair trial outweighs the journalist’s first amendment privileges.

At the same time, a court must prove that the evidence in question has a high degree of importance to the defense’s case and that it cannot be obtained from other sources. The damage to a newspaper’s ability to gather information and the confidentiality of the material are also factors.

This case is one of several recent exceptions to California’s Shield Law. In 2006, Joshua Wolf, a freelance blogger and journalist, was imprisoned for 226 days after he refused to relinquish videotapes of a 2005 San Francisco protest. The Daily Sound attempted to combat a subpoena for different photos of the same gang brawl in late July, but waived the right to appeal the ruling citing the high cost of litigation. The Santa Barbara News-Press was also confronted with a subpoena for its photos of the event at the same time as the Independent; however, it chose to relinquish the photos without legal appeal.