Kansas Only State to Close Criminal Records to Public

Friday, May 17, 2013

In every state except one, the media and members of the public can access police reports and court records pertaining to criminal cases. But in Kansas, obtaining such documents requires lawsuits and getting help from a judge.


Sealing of criminal records was approved by the Kansas Legislature back in t1979, prior to which the law used to be similar to rest of the country.


In response to a story published by the Topeka Daily Capital that named two men who were sought by the police using warrants that had not been served, the state Legislature amended the open records law to close criminal records unless a judge orders the records open.


Documents sealed from the public include affidavits for search, arrest and charging warrants, as well as incident and investigation reports produced by law enforcement.


According to Kansas law enforcement officials, the records are closed to protect the rights of the accused and to keep publicity from tainting a jury. In addition, records may contain the names of confidential informants or investigation techniques, such as wiretapping, that police want to keep secret.


Now, however, some lawmakers are questioning whether it really is a good idea to keep the public from seeing this information.


Representative John Rubin, a Republican and a former federal administrative law judge, told the Kansas City Star that the records should be open “unless law enforcement can provide a justifiable reason to keep records closed or sealed to protect an ongoing investigation for prosecution.”


He added that he was “surprised” to learn how restrictive state law was with criminal records.


As chairman of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee and a member of the judiciary committee, Rubin plans to hold hearings on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes.


In addition to keeping additional and potentially helpful information from victims of crimes, the closed records have been criticized for facilitating corruption through tampering of official records, as was the case in a Topeka police scandal in 2005.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Aaron Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

Many Criminal Records Closed in Kansas (by Karen Dillon, Kansas City Star)

Kansas Tax Committee Approves Bill to Raise Taxes for Poor and Lower Taxes for Rich (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Kansas Set to Become Only State to Eliminate Arts Commission (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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