|NMU||OKLAHOMA||Freedom of Information||Jun 25, 2001|
High court orders release of juvenile records of adult defendant
- The state Supreme Court determined the legislature intended to open juvenile records of violent offenders to properly inform the public.
The juvenile records of an accused rapist and murderer should be made public, according to a June 12 decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The state’s high court said the decision of a lower court judge to impound the records was an “unauthorized use of judicial force.”
The Tulsa World sought access to the records after 19-year-old Robert Wayne Rotramel was charged with the rape and murder of a 12-year-old Oklahoma girl and the strangulation of her 7-year-old friend. Rotrame, who was charged with first-degree murder and sodomy, had been arrested as a juvenile several times.
State law protects the juvenile court and law enforcement records of an individual from public disclosure unless he or she has been charged with certain violent crimes, including murder and rape. The lower court read this provision to mean that the records would be released only if a juvenile was charged with the violent crimes listed in the statute. However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found that legislature intended to open up the juvenile records of adults charged with these crimes because it used the word “individual” and not “juvenile” when drafting the statute.
The court not only reversed the lower court’s decision, it also rebuked it. It said the egregious facts of Rotramel’s case made the failure to release the records “an unauthorized use of judicial force.”
The high court acknowledge a legislative intent to keep juvenile records confidential in most cases to afford “juveniles the opportunity to enter adulthood free of the stigmatization that follows criminal offenders.” But the disclosure provision for violent offenders, the court said, indicated the legislature’s desire for “accurate media coverage and an informed public,” which was far more important than keeping the records confidential.
(World Publishing Co. v. White; Media Counsel: J. Schaad Titus, Tulsa, Okla.) — CC
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press