In a pretty revolting move by gossip site TMZ, the photo at the center of Taylor Swift's sexual assault claims was recently made public — and it has the potential to hurt her case.
On Saturday (November 12), TMZ first published the picture showing Swift posing with her alleged assaulter, former Denver radio personality David Mueller, in 2013. Shortly after the picture was taken, Swift filed a deposition against Mueller, saying he'd used the photo opp as a means of reaching up her skirt and groping her bottom.
"Right as the moment came for us to pose for the photo, he took his hand and put it up my dress and grabbed onto my ass cheek and no matter how much I scooted over it was still there,” Swift said in the deposition. “I remember being frantic, distressed, feeling violated in a way I had never experienced before."
Swift specifically fought for this photo to remained sealed, a plea the judge recently ruled in favor of, saying that the "widespread dissemination of this image might significantly complicate jury selection."
Now that the image is out there, though — what impact could have it on Swift's case? Revelist spoke to a lawyer to find out.
According to New York domestic violence attorney Benjamin D. Moore, the primary harm caused by the photo being published is the presentation of evidence devoid of context.
"To the extent this picture would sway some jurors or change some minds prior to the evidence actually being put in, and being put in in context, Swift would want to put this evidence in (in court) and explain it, not just have a juror see this on TMZ, for example, and draw their own conclusions," Moore told Revelist. "A judge is very concerned about evidence coming in the correct way and being presented to the jury in a way the jury can understand within the context of the case, as opposed to just a piece of information like you or I might see."
It makes sense, then, that Swift, who's remained off social media since Saturday, would have tried to protect this image from public dissemination, not only for its sensitive nature, but because she wanted her own words to accompany it. To have the image spread across the Internet outside of her control takes away what agency she would have had in court, especially considering the seemingly biased words TMZ used when publishing it.
"Swift asked a judge to keep the photo under wraps on grounds it would prejudice the potential jury. It's hard to see how this pic unduly prejudices anyone," TMZ wrote. They also claimed that Swift felt the photo was "too hot for the public to handle."
The fact TMZ would deem it acceptable to publish a photo depicting a then-23-year-old woman's violation at the hands of a man twice her age is shocking, and testifies to the societal lack of regard for victims of sexual assault.
And, as the judge previously worried, the photo's widespread availability could also affect jury selection.
"It’s almost like a tabula rosa, a blank slate. Judges want their juries to be completely unbiased by anything they’ve heard about the event prior to sitting down in the jury box," Moore said. "Most jurors will know who Taylor Swift is at this point. As far as having access to this, if I was the lawyer, I'm going to really question long and hard about whether they've seen this and whether they've seen news reports about this case."
He also noted that, though judges always tell the jury not to pay attention to news reports regarding their case, "In my experience, jurors do not always abide by those instructions."
Moore added that "not everybody reads TMZ, however," but as one of today's hottest celebrities, news about Swift travels quickly. Sure, not everyone with internet access is an avid TMZ consumer, but the idea potential jurors wouldn't have learned of this development from any of the handful of other sites reporting it seems unlikely.
On a hopeful note, though, outside of jury complications before the case goes to trial, Moore believes the photo could potentially have the power to HELP Swift, in the proper court setting.
"As they say, pictures are worth a thousands words, and the picture seems to show this guy with his hand on her behind," Moore concluded. "If anything, I would think that this picture strengthens her case. But, you know, that's going to be up to the jury."
But according to TMZ — who published the photo again early Tuesday morning (November 15), despite the backlash they've been receiving — Mueller's team also believes the photo will be to their benefit. They told TMZ that the contentious photo "doesn't prove a thing other than he didn't have his hand underneath her skirt."
Like Moore says, though, the final interpretation of this photo is up to neither Swift nor Mueller's legal teams, or the public for that matter. It will sure be interesting to see who the judge deems unbiased when this long-awaited trial finally gets its day in court.