Editorial: Prosecutors Shouldn't Be Hiding Crime Records

The Connecticut Law Tribune

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In October, Cuillier, who is also the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, spoke to the legislative task force that is considering a permanent ban on crime scene photos and certain 911 tapes. If this new FOI exemption is added permanently, Cuillier says Connecticut will drift downward into what he calls the "dark states."

Fortunately, we have courts that can keep the lights on, and protect what remains of the Freedom of Information Act. That was demonstrated recently. In November, Sedensky argued to New Britain Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott that the Newtown 911 tapes should be suppressed. Sedensky raised creative exemption theories to contend the Associated Press and the public is not legally entitled to hear the tapes.

One was that the 911 callers were making a confidential report of child abuse. Another was that the callers were like witnesses who required anonymity for their own safety. The judge said the latter bordered on the frivolous, and in a carefully-reasoned decision, ordered the release of the 911 tapes.

Most recently, Hartford lawyer and former victim advocate Cruz, in a Law Tribune opinion piece, has contended that the FOI act injures crime victims because the press uses the law to pointlessly invade their privacy. Her provocative charge is a string of generalities and not backed up by a single real-life example.

Cruz implies that the press or the public has used the FOI to obtain crime scene photos that wind up on the Internet. Daniel Klau, the president of the Connecticut Foundation For Open Government, has found otherwise. First Amendment lawyer Klau teaches a course on privacy law at the University of Connecticut School of Law. His research determined that there has not been a single instance of crime scene photos being obtained through FOI and winding up on the web. Not from the Connecticut Lottery shooting. Not from Cheshire. Not from the Manchester Distributors rampage.

This suggests that the new Freedom of Information exemption targeting crime scene photos is a remedy in search of a problem.

It's easy to understand that lawmakers yearn to shield Newtown survivors from new reminders of the horror. Newtown's victims have unquestionably suffered more than enough. But to respond by hiding all homicide scene photos and 911 tapes, is ill-advised and destined to yield unintended consequences.

One unremarked consequence of Newtown is a subtle distortion of the prosecutorial role.

The Newtown tragedy has invited state prosecutors to become self-appointed champions of the peace and quiet of victims and families, pushing for more secrecy and less accountability. Compelling as it is, this is an invitation they should decline

Law Tribune Editorial Board chair Joette Katz recused herself from both the discussion and the vote on this editorial.

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