Massachusetts ruling on the withholding of officers’ criminal records is startling

In a series of sweeping rulings, the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office has ruled that police have the “discretion” to deny public access to arrest reports, mug shots, and other criminal records.  As an excellent story by the Boston Globe’s Todd Wallack reveals, Supervisor of Records Shawn Williams has interpreted the state’s public records law not to apply to arrest records on the ground that they constitute criminal offender record information (“CORI”), as defined in another state statute.  However, Williams’ predecessor, Alan Cote, ruled as recently as 2010 that a record is not exempt from disclosure as CORI unless it is created after the filing of a criminal complaint, which arrest reports and mug shots are not.

Tellingly, the police frequently trumpet arrests they make on blogs and public statements.  However, when Wallack asked for the arrest reports of police officers accused of drunk driving, he was told they constituted non-public CORI, and the Supervisor of Records agreed.  If these rulings survive court challenge, they would appear to make Massachusetts the only state where arrest records are categorically exempt from public disclosure.  The development is another black mark on a state that has already received an “F” grade from the Center for Public Integrity on the efficacy of its public records law.

You can read the Globe story here, and hear me discuss the matter on WBUR’s Radio Boston here.

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– Jeffrey J. Pyle

If you have any questions about the information presented here, or would like to learn more about how Prince Lobel can address any of your media law concerns, please contact Jeffrey Pyle, the author of this post, at 617-456-8143 or jpyle@princelobel.com, or click here to contact any of the attorneys in the firm’s Media Law practice group.

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