The New York Times decided to publish information from the tax returns of presidential hopeful Donald Trump. These have been in the news a lot lately because there have been accusations that he has not paid anything in taxes and people have been asking him to release the documents. He hasn't done it yet. At one time he said he would, even though his lawyers told him not to, as long as Hillary Clinton -- his opposition for the presidency -- releases her emails.

The New York Times had copies of his returns and decided to run information from them. They allegedly didn't get his express permission, though, which critics say could lead to criminal charges for the company and those in charge.

A Willful Violation?

The laws regarding this type of violation stipulate that the person or company has to know that the action being taken is against the law and then proceed anyway, willfully violating that law.

This is where some say the New York Times could really get into trouble. The Executive Editor for the paper was talking at a public forum and spoke of running the tax returns, saying that lawyers would say doing so crossed a legal line. He also allegedly said “you know what your lawyers would tell you: If you publish them, you go to jail.”

If this does end up being a court case, that admission could indicate that he knew what he was doing was illegal, knew that jail time was on the line, and did it anyway. That would eliminate a defense based around ignorance of the law and would potentially make the release of that information a criminal act.

Free Speech

What could make this very interesting is if the Times uses free speech and the First Amendement as a defense. While there are those who believe precedent still indicates that this was a violation of the law, they could argue that they are simply a publication putting out factual information that the public deserves to know -- the very job of a newspaper -- and that they are therefore protected under the First Amendment.

Either way, with the election drawing near, this story is sure to get a lot of press going forward, and it could shed some light on the rights of the press and whether or not papers can truly face criminal charges for these types of things.