A rule under consideration by Utah's courts would automatically withhold court records of dismissed criminal cases from public view. If passed, there would be no public access in the state to any criminal files in cases when charges were dismissed, no matter the reason for the dismissal or the newsworthiness of the case. RTDNA opposes the measure.
The public and the media have a right to access the public records of government proceedings under both the First Amendment and the Utah Constitution. A dismissal of charges does not necessarily mean the person charged is innocent. Evidence may be lost or witnesses may change their stories, or as often happens, the defendant could reach a pre-trial deal with prosecutors. Utah law already allows defendants to request charges be classified as private if they can demonstrate need on a case-by-case basis, a more prudent approach than a blanket provision making all dismissed charges private. And the public has a right to know if charges were improperly made or if valid charges were dismissed, to hold police, prosecutors and the courts accountable.
"Utah has made great strides in recent years to open its courts to the public and media," said RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender. "This rule would be a significant step backward, taking away the authority of judges to determine whether it is necessary or appropriate to expunge court records. We believe public records should be available to the public."
The proposed rule remains open for public comment through Friday, February 17. Comments may be added on the state's judicial administration website.
You can read the full text of the proposed revised rule here.