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Sheriff reverses rap-sheets-under-wraps plan

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Sheriff reverses rap-sheets-under-wraps plan

  • After hearing news media objections, the Salt Lake County sheriff declined to issue a new rap sheet policy mimicking the U.S. Supreme Court’s crabbed interpretation of privacy exemptions to the federal FOI Act.

July 24, 2003 — The sheriff of Salt Lake County considered adapting the U.S. Supreme Court’s far-reaching interpretation of the law enforcement privacy exemption to the federal Freedom of Information Act to deny already public information on local criminal history rap sheets in the same way that the federal government now denies once public information in its rap sheets.

However, after news media and their attorneys met with him, Sheriff Aaron Kennard dropped the plan, noting that Utah’s open-records law reflects a clear desire to make records public that is not so apparent in the federal FOI Act as it has been interpreted.

The Deseret Morning News quoted Kennard as saying, “I have been convinced it is in the public’s best interest to keep the policy as it is,” and that “the last thing I want anyone thinking is that I’m trying to hide something.”

The sheriff’s office sought advice from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, which in mid-June issued a lengthy opinion showing how the Supreme Court’s 1989 decision in Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee extended the FOI Act’s exemptions for personal privacy to older and more remote public records because of their “practical obscurity.”

The opinion also showed, though, that the state’s open records law, the Government Records Access Management Act, has more stringent language requiring openness. Its privacy exemptions could be invoked only where privacy clearly would be affected, the district attorney wrote.

The sheriff’s decision July 23 to continue making rap sheets available nullified an announcement his spokeswoman Peggy Faulkner made July 15. The Associated Press had reported Faulkner’s remarks that current arrest and booking information would be available but earlier records would not be.

“The policy isn’t out but it’s how it’s going to be,” she said.

She implied that the policy was considered because of some concern that reporters did not distinguish between arrests and convictions.


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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