Utah rejects tighter court record restrictions

May 23, 2017 06:15

Utah's Judicial Council has rejected a proposal that would have automatically withheld court records of dismissed criminal cases from public view. The rule would have allowed 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 opposed the measure.

“RTDNA is very glad to see the Utah Judicial Council dropped this proposal, “said Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director.  “It was a step down the road of diminished transparency – something the citizens of Utah do not deserve.”

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.

RTDNA monitors and comments on court rules and state laws which could affect the handling of public records and media access to those records. If you know of proposed rules or laws in your state that could negatively impact access to public records, please contact Mike Cavender: mikec@rtdna.org