New N.C. law clarifies public availability of crime investigation information
NORTH CAROLINA — Reporters in North Carolina now have statutory backing for requesting victims’ names and other criminal investigation information from law enforcement officers because of a new law that went into effect October 1.
The law, passed by the General Assembly in July, clarifies what records are open to the public by adding a section on criminal investigative records to the Public Records Law.
Police are required by law to make six types of information available: the time, date, location and nature of a violation; the name, sex, age, address, employment and alleged violation of a suspect; the circumstances surrounding an arrest, including whether the arrest involved resistance, possession or use of weapons, or pursuit, and a description of items seized; the contents of 911 calls except for information identifying the caller, witness or victim; the contents of radio or telephone communications; and the name, sex, age and address of victims.
Before, informal customs and understandings governed press access to the records.
The most controversial part of the new law was in the disclosure victims’ identities. If release of the victim information would pose a threat to the person’s health or safety or materially compromise a criminal investigation, the police must temporarily withhold it until “the circumstances that justify withholding it cease to exist,” the law says.
The new law also contains a safeguard for the other five categories of information. A public law enforcement agency may seek a court order to prevent disclosure of the information if disclosure will jeopardize the prosecution, the defendant’s fair trial rights, or an ongoing or future investigation.
(N.C. Gen. Stat. 132-1.4)