The Colorado Supreme Court decided to unseal an indictment against a man suspected in the disappearance of his young daughter.
In an opinion issued April 7, the state’s highest court ordered the Arapahoe County District Court to unseal the indictment against Aaron Thompson. The decision came in a suit brought by The Denver Post and the Associated Press to unseal the record at the district court.
Steve Zansburg, the attorney representing the Post and AP, said unsealing this indictment is crucial in giving the public a more complete picture of the charges lodged against Thompson.
“We’re pleased with the result that the indictment is going to be unsealed and the public will have access,” Zansburg said. “For all this time, almost a year now, the public has been in the dark about what facts the grand jury found that were sufficient to bring 60 counts [against Thompson].”
The state supreme court ordered the district court to release the entire indictment with the exception of any identifying information of the alleged sexual assault victims. The court chose to rely on the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA) rather than the federal or state right of access, declaring the indictment a “record of official action” under the statute.
Zansburg said he didn’t know why the court didn’t look to the First Amendment and state Constitution in this case when it has in past incidences.
“The court relied upon a state doctrine and avoided resolving the case on constitutional grounds unnecessarily,” he said.
In its opinion, the court reasoned that since the Post didn’t seek the names of any alleged victims it didn’t need to address the issue on constitutional grounds.
Colorado Press Association Executive Director Ed Otte welcomed the decision
“It seems too often we get decisions that shut off public access to records, whether they’re criminal justice records or other public records,” Otte said. “Any decision, such as this, that sends a message to the district attorneys and judges that they need to carefully examine the public access aspect of any requests that they’re faced with” will help foster a more open government.
Arapahoe County District Judge Mark Hannen had ordered the indictment sealed because of the young ages of the alleged victims. He also argued that to ensure a fair trial, Thompson’s indictment should be treated as a record of grand jury proceedings, which are private.