NEFAC Urges Conn. Legislators to Support HB 6750; Original Arrest Records Bill ‘Strikes Right Balance’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT Justin Silverman | justin@nefirstamendment.org | 774.244.2365

The New England First Amendment Coalition asked Connecticut legislators last week to support the original version of House Bill 6750, legislation that would require transparency within the state’s criminal justice system and would help keep government accountable and communities informed. The bill was recently amended to minimize the disclosure of arrest records.

In a May 1 letter written to state Sen. Eric D. Coleman and Rep. William Tong, NEFAC Executive Director Justin Silverman explained:

“For two decades, Connecticut citizens relied on § 1-210(b)(3) of the state’s FOI statute to govern the public’s access to criminal records. This section of the law allowed the public to examine the actions of police, but it also provided protection for witnesses who may be endangered as well as several other exemptions sought by law enforcement. It provided a balance between the public’s right to know and the interests of police and prosecutors. The Supreme Court last year, unfortunately, tipped the scale in favor of secrecy by ruling that a different section of the FOI statute governed requests for criminal records. The original H.B. 6750 passed by the Government Administration and Elections Committee would tip the scale back to the balance that existed for 20 years and require that § 1-210(b)(3) again control these requests.”

Coleman and Tong are co-chairmen of the General Assembly’s Judicial Committee, which is currently debating the bill. Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, Senate President Martin Looney and Rep. Ed Jutila were sent copies.

James Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors, said that 1-210(b)(3) provides all the protections asked for by law enforcement, such as allowing the withholding of informant names, endangered witnesses, minor witnesses and investigatory techniques not already known to the general public, among other exemptions.

“It strikes the right balance between the people’s right to know and how the police are doing their job, and protecting the prosecutorial process,” Smith said. “The legislature needs to recreate that balance.”

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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.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include: The Robertson Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Foundation, and Boston University.