Miami - A judge on Tuesday ruled that video images of a partially-clad Justin Bieber while the pop singer was in police custody in Florida can be released, but only after blocking out his genitals.
The video clips included Bieber providing a urine sample for a drug test following his arrest by police in Miami Beach in January on a charge of driving under the influence.
Lawyers for Bieber, who turned 20 on March 1, had argued that the police surveillance video showing him urinating was inappropriate and should be withheld to protect the Canadian singer's privacy.
“The court finds that there exists a right to privacy as it relates to the exposure and dissemination of the defendant's genitalia,” Miami-Dade County Court Judge William Altfield said in a written ruling.
In a court hearing on the order, Altfield said that despite the public's right to full disclosure, “Bieber has not lost his expectation of dignity”.
He said that while people in police custody have less expectation of privacy, they “are not like animals in a zoo to be filmed and photographed at will by the public or media”.
The judge noted that what was at stake was the public access to evidence in court cases, not the media's First Amendment right to free speech under the US Constitution.
“We want to issue our thanks to the court for spending so much time analysing this issue... and finding that even Mr Bieber has a right to privacy,” said the singer's Miami attorney, Roy Black.
Bieber was charged with driving under the influence, resisting arrest and using an expired licence after Miami Beach police say they caught him drag racing on January 23. Bieber pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Besides a small amount of alcohol, he had marijuana and prescription medication for anxiety in his system at the time of his arrest, according to prosecutors.
After Bieber's arrest, lawyers for the Miami Herald, CBS, the Associated Press and other media filed motions demanding all the video be released under Florida's broad public records law.
Reuters is not a party to the case.
Under Florida law, all evidence including photos and videos became public record once they are handed to the defence.
Three of the clips were to be released immediately without being altered, while two others would be withheld until technicians can obscure Bieber's genitals, the judge ruled.
“Some type of technological technique will be used to shade or blacken out that area which would depict the objectionable images,” he added.
Even though none of the clips clearly show Bieber urinating, in one clip the partition fails to fully block the camera view after he completed giving the sample, “thereby revealing an image of the defendant's genitalia”, according to the ruling. A second clip was also deemed “possibly revealing” of Bieber's private parts, the judge said.
Last week, prosecutors released to the media several hours of video surveillance footage of Bieber while he was in police custody, showing him being frisked, chatting with police, and doing push-ups in a holding cell. But clips of him giving the urine sample were withheld for review by the judge.
The pop star's private life has taken a seemingly tumultuous turn in the past year. Last month he was charged with assaulting a limousine driver in Toronto.
The case is State of Florida vs Justin Drew Bieber, B14-2900. - Reuters