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Court Upholds Confidentiality Of Criminal Investigation And Inquest Records

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, (802) 828-3173

November 9, 2010

Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford of the Vermont Superior Court, Civil Division, Washington Unit, recently issued two decisions upholding the confidentiality of criminal investigation and inquest records. In two separate cases, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Rutland Herald made public records requests to the Attorney General’s Office. The Herald’s request was also directed to the Department of Public Safety. The Court found that these requests were properly denied because the records are confidential under the Public Records Act.

The ACLU filed suit over its request for copies of documents filed in court by the Attorney General’s Office to obtain cell phone tracking data. The Attorney General’s Office argued that any such documents could not be disclosed because they were part of an inquest proceeding that is confidential by law. The action filed by the Rutland Herald arose out of its request for records relating to a Vermont State Police criminal investigation into possible criminal conduct at the Vermont Police Academy. The Herald argued that the records should be disclosed because the investigation had been completed and no criminal charges were filed. In both cases, the Court concluded that the Legislature intended the requested materials to be kept confidential. The Court also concluded that the Legislature intended the confidentiality of criminal investigation records to continue beyond the conclusion of a criminal investigation.

Attorney General William Sorrell reacted to the decisions: “There are good public policy reasons for protecting criminal investigative files from public disclosure, including protecting the privacy of victims of crime as well as that of individuals investigated but never criminally charged.”

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