Closed criminal files not subject to records act
TEXAS–The Texas Open Records Act does not require a state prosecutor to disclose “closed” criminal prosecution files, the state’s high court held in mid-June.
However, the court’s unanimous opinion rejected Harris County District Attorney John Holmes’ argument that his office was not subject to the Texas Open Records Act.
The suit stemmed from open records requests last year by fourteen individuals, some of whom apparently believed they had been the target of investigation, who sought information from the Harris County District Attorney’s closed investigative files. Closed files concern cases that the district attorney either never prosecuted, or prosecuted to a final verdict.
After denial, the requesters sought an opinion from Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, who declared all such files open under the public records law.
Following that ruling, Holmes sought a declaratory judgment on the disclosure of the files in a state district court in Houston. The trial court held the files were subject to the public records act, and a court of appeals upheld the decision.
Overturning those decisions, the state’s Supreme Court concluded that the records sought belonged to an exempted category of “record[s] of a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deal … with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime.”
The court rejected the attorney general’s argument that prosecutors might withhold such records only when disclosure would “unduly interfere with law enforcement or crime prevention.” Instead, the court held, the Texas Open Records Act broadly defines and does not limit the “law enforcement exception” to disclosure. (Holmes v. Morales)