AG Opinion Restricts Access to California Criminal Information

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California prosecutors will no longer release routine information about people accused of committing crimes citing a recent legal opinion from Attorney General Bill Lockyer that said giving out such information violates defendants’ privacy rights.

The 14-page opinion, issued Sept. 20, said prosecutors may not produce records on prior offenses and parole or probation status.

It also advised against releasing lists of cases in which a witness has testified and names of defendants charged with a specific kind of crime over a number of years.

“It is quite a major change from what we have provided in the past. The Los Angeles D.A. has had a history of favoring the public’s right to know rather than keeping information secret,” said Lael Rubin, deputy district attorney.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said he favors pursuing legislation to restore the public’s right to know.

“There’s a real interest for the public to know criminal histories at certain times and in context,” Cooley said.

Thomas W. Nexton, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association said the public’s interest outweighs the privacy interest of the accused, and also suggested it may be time for the Legislature to take another look at the issue.

“A typical situation is you’ve got a person who is arrested and accused of a violent crime,” he said. “The public wants to know who is this person. Part of who that person is, is what that person has or has not done in the past. The public wants and needs to know just who they’re dealing with.”

The opinion joins another recent decision by the California Supreme Court that significantly narrowed the public’s access to bedrock information about the criminal justice system. That decision restricted disclosure of police disciplinary records.

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