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The New England First Amendment Coalition recently testified before a joint panel of Vermont Senate and House lawmakers about the public interest in promptly released information on persons arrested.
The lawmakers called on representatives from state and local law enforcement and the media to provide their opinions on when the name of a person arrested should be publicly released and to what level of crimes should be made public.
A Bennington defense lawyer had raised the issue of releasing the names of those charged with low level offenses. Doing so, he argued, could unfairly tarnish the reputation of those individuals, particularly if the case is sent to court diversion or the defendant receives a deferred sentence.
Michael Donoghue, who represented NEFAC and the Vermont Press Association at the Aug. 29 hearing, said police should not be prevented from sharing arrest information with the public. This type of information is essential to learning how law enforcement operates and holding police officers accountable for their actions, he said.
“As much as it may be a pain for troopers, and for legislators, and for the governor, or other state employees to have the public looking over their shoulder, that is the government that we have,” Donoghue said.
Col. Matthew Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police, and St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor on behalf of the Vermont Police Chiefs Association said they fully support the release of arrest information. They cited constitutional requirements, legal decisions and ethical reasons to be consistent with the release of arrest information.
The Justice Oversight Committee is discussing several topics this summer and took no immediate action on the media issue.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
here.Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation
Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.