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In re: Sealed arrest warrant pursuant to PA. R. Crim. 513.1

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  1. Court Access

Case Number: 801 MD 2022

Court: Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

Clients: Herald-Standard – Uniontown Newspapers, Inc., Mon Valley Independent, Observer-Reporter

Motion to Intervene and Unseal Filed: Nov. 23, 2022

Background: According to local news reports, police arrested 55-year-old Keven Van Lam following the fatal shooting of a man in Rostraver Township, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 5, 2022.

Despite the fact that the shooting took place in a public shopping plaza, news outlets have been unable to learn even basic information about the state’s case against Lam, including the charges he faces, because the entire case file has been sealed by the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas. State court system spokesperons told reporters that the case was sealed according to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 513.1. However, the rule does not allow for the sealing of entire dockets, and the court’s order does not state that the docket is sealed.

On behalf of The Herald-Standard, Mon Valley Independent, and the Observer-Reporter, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a motion to intervene and unseal the docket and judicial records in Commonwealth v. Keven Van Lam. The news outlets argue that the public has a presumptive right of access to the docket and all other judicial records under the common law, the First Amendment, and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Quote: “Public access to arrest warrant information discourages perjury in affidavits, encourages law enforcement to ensure affidavits are supported by sufficient cause, promotes fairness and accuracy in judicial decision making, and increases the perception of fairness in the arrest warrant process,” Reporters Committee attorneys wrote on behalf of the news outlets in a legal brief in support of their motion to unseal.

Filings:

2022-11-23: Emergency motion to intervene and unseal

2022-11-23: Brief in support of emergency motion to intervene and unseal

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