Court: Nevada Supreme Court
Date Filed: Aug. 21, 2018
Update: On Feb. 27, 2020, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that juvenile autopsy reports are not entirely exempt from the state’s Public Records Act. However, the court said that the reports may contain sensitive, private medical information that can be redacted before the documents are released. The court remanded to the district court for a determination of what private medical or health-related information should be redacted from the requested autopsy reports.
Background: As part of an effort to expand its reporting on patterns of fatal abuse and neglect of children, the Las Vegas Review-Journal requested juvenile autopsy reports from the Clark County Office of the Coroner. The coroner’s office denied the request, which sparked a legal battle between the newspaper and the coroner’s office over whether the reports are subject to release under the Nevada Public Records Act.
The Eighth Judicial District Court sided with the paper, ordering the coroner’s office to provide unredacted copies of all juvenile autopsy reporters compiled between 2012 and 2017. The Office of the Coroner appealed that ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court, arguing as it did previously that the reports contain information that must be kept confidential under Nevada law.
Our position: The Nevada Supreme Court should uphold the district court’s ruling, granting access to juvenile autopsy reports under the NPRA.
- Public access to autopsy reports serves the purposes of the NPRA and enhances trust in the Office of the Coroner/Medical Examiner.
- Public access to autopsy reports allows for news reporting related to the health and safety of children.
- Public access to autopsy reports have informed the public about official misconduct, occupational health, and government fraud.
Quote: “Access to similar records has formed the basis of important journalism that has informed public discussion of issues ranging from child welfare to public corruption to occupational health. Because restrictions on public access to autopsy reports would stifle these types of important public discussions, contrary to the purposes of the NPRA, the district court’s order should be affirmed.”
Related: Check out this page from the Reporters Committee’s Open Government Guide to see how coroner’s reports and similar records are treated under each state’s open records laws.