The Judicial Conference of the United States has adopted a new policy of publicly acknowledging the existence of so-called “super-sealed” cases, Legal Times reports.
The Judicial Conference is the body that sets policy for the federal courts. Its policies are considered highly persuasive and are often incorporated into local court rules.
According to a Judicial Conference statement, its new policy provides for “Internet-based lists of civil and criminal cases in district courts [that] include a case number and generic name, such as Sealed vs. Sealed, for each sealed case.”
Legal Times noted that in the past, “[p]ress and citizen groups have complained that some sealed cases simply vanish from the docket in many district courts, making it impossible to learn about them or challenge the sealing.”
Indeed, a 2005 Reporters Committee investigation found that during a five-year period, defendants in 469 criminal cases were indicted (and sometimes prosecuted, tried and sentenced) secretly in Washington’s federal court. When members of the public searched for the cases, the court’s computer system falsely reported that “no such case” existed.
Nationwide, a 2005 Associated Press report showed that 5,116 defendants were tried, convicted and sentenced in secret in federal courts from 2003 to 2005.
After the investigations, court officials pledged to update the court software to more accurately reflect the fact that sealed cases exist.