Court keeps street addresses of sex crime scenes secret
INDIANA — Indiana’s open records act requires police to make public the general location but not the street address of the site where a rape occurs, according to a 5-0 decision in late November by the Supreme Court of Indiana.
The Gary Post-Tribune asked the Gary Police Department in mid- July 1993 for each of the addresses where six reported rapes took place. The paper planned to publish a map of the blocks where a serial rapist was believed to have been striking since early June of that year.
When the police refused the newspaper’s request, the Post- Tribune filed suit in the Indiana Superior Court for Lake County. The newspaper cited Indiana’s open records act, which requires police to make available reports of any alleged crime. The statute excludes the names of victims of certain sexual offenses, but does require release of the “location of occurrence.”
The court ruled in early August 1993 that the law only requires police to release the names of the neighborhoods where the attacks occurred. The police chief had revealed that information in his hearing testimony, so the judge dismissed the case.
The newspaper appealed to the Appeals Court of Indiana in Indianapolis, arguing that releasing neighborhood information does not disclose the “location of occurrence.” The police replied that because the victims were raped at home, disclosing addresses would be the same as disclosing their names.
The appeals court agreed with the newspaper, holding in late June 1994 that the statute required police to provide street addresses where rapes occur. The police department appealed to the state supreme court.
The state’s high court set aside the appellate court ruling. The supreme court reasoned that the law’s exemption for the names of victims of sexual offenses indicates a legislative intent to limit access to rape victims’ identities.
The court concluded that interpreting the statute to mandate release of the street addresses where the rapes took place would reveal the victim’s identities in this case, defeating the legislative intent.
(Post-Tribune v. Police Dep’t; Media Counsel: Timothy G. Kline, Highland, Ind.)