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Court denies records request by newspaper citing excessive amount

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    NMU         DELAWARE    

    NMU         DELAWARE         Freedom of Information         Sep 28, 2000    

Court denies records request by newspaper citing excessive amount

  • The Delaware Supreme Court found a universal privacy interest prevented the release of crime statistics

Earlier this month the Delaware Supreme Court shot down a request by The (Wilmington) News Journal for access to statistical arrest and conviction information. Despite never requiring the state agency in charge of the information to prove an invasion of a single individual’s privacy, the appeals court ruled that surrendering such a large amount of information to the newspaper would necessarily invade someone’s privacy.

In 1993, the newspaper requested statistical information held by the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System about every criminal conviction since 1972. The News Journal asked the agency to subdivide the number of convictions into 36 categories, ranging from the general — such as the charged offense and sentence issued — to the specific — age, gender and race of the defendant — to the unique — whether the defendant participated in special prison programs.

The newspaper did not request the names of the defendants or other means of identification. The criminal information system, citing privacy concerns, denied the request, claiming criminal records are exempt from the Delaware Freedom of Information Act. As a result, the newspaper sued the state agency in an attempt to gain access to the records. However, the Superior Court decided the case in favor of the state without setting a trial date.

In Sept. 1999, the Superior Court noted the state agency had done little to prove an invasion of privacy to the single judge. The sheer volume of the newspaper’s request, 300 fields of information, raised privacy concerns, the court reasoned. The state Supreme Court upheld that court’s decision on Sept. 14, 2000.

The newspaper had also argued state law permits the release of criminal history information for research, evaluative or statistical purposes, but the court determined the legislative intent did not include “media” because they are not expressly exempted.

(Gannett Co. v. Delaware Criminal Justice Information System; Media Counsel: Richard Elliot Jr., Wilmington) CC

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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