Legislature(2015 - 2016)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
04/15/2015 01:30 PM JUDICIARY
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HB 11-NO INTERNET ACCESS TO SOME CRIM. CASES 1:49:57 PM VICE CHAIR COGHILL reconvened the meeting and announced the consideration of HB 11. "An Act restricting the publication of certain records of criminal cases on a publicly available Internet website; and providing for an effective date." BARBARA BARNES, Staff, Representative Tammie Wilson, introduced HB 11, reading from the following sponsor statement: "Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty". HB 11 directs the Alaska Court System to remove from its public internet website records of criminal cases that were acquitted of all charges, by dismissal of all charges, or by acquittal of some charges and dismissal of remaining charges after 60 days have elapsed from the date of acquittal or dismissal of the case. CourtView, the Alaska Trial Courts online publicly accessible database, provides access for persons seeking information on the status of criminal and civil cases, the nature of criminal charges filed against persons, and the final outcome of litigation. Court View forever shows the arrest and charging documents for persons who were never convicted, allowing society to scrutinize any individual, for any reason, and socially chastise the innocent. In spite of CourtView user warnings, that a charge is not to be considered a conviction, this public posting of a person's name and charges can have dire consequences on the individual's livelihood and inherent liberties. From housing to employment prospects, the innocent are socially judged guilty by the very presence of their names on CourtView regardless of the outcome of the case. By very definition, a person is not a criminal if acquitted at trial, or if their case is dismissed by the courts. In American jurisprudence, we are considered innocent until proven guilty. HB 11 champions this principle. We ask that Alaskans who have not been found guilty of any wrong doing be given the right to emancipation of social distrust and inherent prejudices. 1:53:04 PM VICE CHAIR COGHILL asked Ms. Meade to comment on whether or not case files would be confidential and if the court could meet the 60-day deadline. 1:53:40 PM NANCY MEADE, General Counsel, Administrative Staff, Alaska Court System, clarified that the Court System is neutral on HB 11. She confirmed that under the wording of this bill, case files would be public, not confidential. The bill directs the Court System to remove the cases from CourtView within 60 days of disposition of the case, and that can be done. The court believes it can comply with the legislative intent to do it retroactively, although there may be some glitches in that piece, she said. VICE CHAIR COGHILL asked the sponsor's staff if the information that was removed from CourtView would be available through a records search at the courthouse. MS. BARNES replied that's correct. VICE CHAIR COGHILL asked Ms. Meade how someone would access those paper files at the courthouse after they had been removed from the website. MS. MEADE replied the court is working on the process. Initially they were thinking that people could go to one of the 40 some courthouses and submit a request for the clerk to look up those dismissed and acquitted cases. The other alternative is for the court to create a third portal on CourtView that would be available at courthouses so a citizen could look up somebody by their last name and find something more than is on the public version. They haven't figured out how to do that yet, or if that's the best option, but they will before the effective date. VICE CHAIR COGHILL asked if it will impose a financial burden on the Court System to create the third portal. MS. MEADE replied the Court System submitted a zero fiscal note with the knowledge that it would require staff time and perhaps actual dollars to comply with the bill. 1:58:08 PM SENATOR MICCICHE asked how often someone who is convicted of domestic violence is found to have a long track record of dismissals and acquittals. MS. MEADE replied she didn't know how often that happens, but she understands the concern. Some people would not have anything on CourtView yet they may have had cases filed against them that ended in dismissal or acquittal for some reason or another. She recalled that concern was voiced last year. SENATOR MICCICHE said he wanted it clear for the record that acquittals and dismissals would still be available at the courthouse. MS. MEADE confirmed that was correct. SENATOR COSTELLO asked what recourse people would have if they didn't have a courthouse in their community. MS. MEADE explained that courthouses are spread throughout the state so that every community has access to a court. For example, the court in Palmer serves Big Lake and the Bethel court serves the community of Eek. People that want to do research under this bill would have to go to the courthouse that serves their community. SENATOR MICCICHE asked if someone could request the records telephonically. MS. MEADE responded that the Court System doesn't offer that service as a regular practice because of staffing limitations, but the court does exercise a rule of reason. VICE CHAIR COGHILL invited the sponsor to comment. REPRESENTATIVE TAMMIE WILSON, sponsor of HB 11, described the bill as a "happy in between" of former Senator Dyson's bill. That bill would have sealed all the records whereas HB 11 directs the court to remove records of criminal cases from CourtView [60 days] after a criminal case is acquitted or dismissed, but that information is still available at the courthouse. SENATOR MICCICHE opined that it's important that the information is still available. He described the bill as a fair compromise. SENATOR COSTELLO asked how other states address this issue. REPRESENTATIVE WILSON said she couldn't find anything similar to this when she researched county records. VICE CHAIR COGHILL asked Ms. Meade to address the question. 2:06:48 PM MS. MEADE said there is a broad spectrum of thinking about what is appropriate to post online and it's handled in a variety of ways. Some courts post every document while others exclude family and criminal law. The Alaska Court System favors public court records, although there has to be a balance. If this is the policy call of the legislature, the court will follow it. 2:08:40 PM SENATOR MICCICHE moved to report SSHB 11 from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note. VICE CHAIR COGHILL announced that without objection CSSSHB 11(JUD) AM is reported from the Senate Judiciary Standing Committee.