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Arkansas judges refuse to back off criminal affidavit seal

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A group of Arkansas judges have voted not to stop sealing probable-cause arrest affidavits, even if they are considered public records, The…

A group of Arkansas judges have voted not to stop sealing probable-cause arrest affidavits, even if they are considered public records, The Associated Press reports.

Judge Berlin Jones says judges in his circuit began sealing the records because potential jurors read about the criminal cases in newspapers, meaning "we had to go through a lot more jurors, and it was reaching the point where sometimes we wouldn’t get a jury from the panel because of the news story," according to The AP. The wire service cites an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette report saying judges in Jefferson and Lincoln counties are the only ones in the state who routinely seal the felony documents, which include "evidence against a defendant used to secure arrest and detention."

The state Supreme Court established in a nearly 20-year-old case that jail logs, arrest records and information sheets in criminal cases should be accessible to the public, The AP reports.

Rick Peltz, a Freedom of Information Act expert and law professor from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is quoted by the wire service saying the Jefferson and Lincoln courts should explore other options to balance public awareness and impartial juries, such as "admonishing jurors about what they read or hear" or relocating the trial.