March 28, 2005
DISCLOSURE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT AND ERASED RECORDS
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked for a summary of the law that prevents law enforcement officers from releasing records related to pending investigations. You also wanted to know (1) what rights victims and the public have to erased records and (2) how officials dispose of property seized in support of an erased charge.
Connecticut has a comprehensive body of law regarding public access to criminal record information. Generally, criminal investigations may be kept confidential, arrest information is public, bail information is confidential, conviction information is public, nonconviction information is confidential. Erased records are generally confidential, but crime victims can access them for limited purposes. The public can get access to disclosable information by contacting the police department that conducted the investigation or the court that heard the matter.
Generally, courts must order seized property returned to its owner at the final disposition of the criminal action or as soon thereafter as practical. If there is no criminal action, the court must issue its order within six months after a claim for the property's return is made. Certain property, such as illegal drugs and fireworks are forfeited and
destroyed. Property unclaimed within six months after it is available is destroyed or given to charity, an educational institution, or a government agency or institution. However, unclaimed money is deposited in the General Fund and valuable unclaimed property is sold.
PUBLIC ACCESS TO CRIMINAL INFORMATION
The public's access to criminal information is determined by statute based on the type of information sought or, in certain cases, the defendant's age (e.g., juvenile record information is confidential) or the nature of the case (e.g., rape shield laws allow victims of sexual assault or risk of injury crimes to keep their identities and addresses secret).
Criminal Investigations and Arrest Information
With two exceptions, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires public disclosure of the names and addresses of arrestees; the date, time, and place of the arrest; and the reason for it. The requirement does not apply to juvenile or erased records.
Records a police department designates as an arrest or incident report, news release, or other similar reports must be disclosed if they do not fit within the FOIA exemption for law enforcement records (CGS § 1-215). Law enforcement agencies do not have to allow access to records of criminal investigations or detection if disclosure would be contrary to the public interest because it would reveal:
1. the identity of informants not otherwise known;
2. information prejudicial to a prospective law enforcement action;
3. investigatory techniques not otherwise known to the general public;
4. juvenile arrest records, including related investigatory files;
5. the names and addresses of victims of sexual assault, risk of injury, or moral impairment;
6. signed witness statements; or
7. allegations that must be destroyed after one year if uncorroborated (CGS § 1-210 (b)(3)).
The law also specifically prohibits law enforcement agencies from disclosing any personal effects or possessions found on an arrestee unless the items are relevant to the crime for which he was arrested (CGS § 1-215 (a)).
Conviction information is available to the public and agencies holding such information must establish reasonable hours and places for inspection (CGS § 54-142k(a) and (b)). “Conviction information” means criminal history record information, other than erased records, that discloses that a person has pleaded no contest or nolo contendere, or was convicted of a crime (CGS § 54-142g(c)). “Criminal history record information” means court records and information compiled by criminal justice agencies for purposes of identifying criminal offenders and of maintaining with regard to each such offender notations of arrests, releases, detentions, indictments, informations, pleas, trials, sentences, appeals, incarcerations, correctional supervision, and paroles. Criminal history record information does not include intelligence, presentence investigation, investigative information, or disclosable bail information (CGS § 54-142g(a)).
The law (CGS § 54-142a) requires police, courts, and prosecutors to erase all related records when (1) a criminal case is dismissed or nolled, (2) a defendant is acquitted or granted an absolute pardon, or (3) the offense for which the defendant was convicted is later decriminalized. Nolled records are not erased until at least 13 months after the case is dismissed. The duty to erase does not apply if the defendant was found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect or guilty but not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect. “Court records” do not include an official court reporter's, assistant court reporter's, or monitor's record or transcript.
Erasure is not the same as physical destruction. Generally, erased records are physically destroyed only when defendants request it, except records erased due to the decriminalization of an offense must be destroyed without a request. Physical destruction can take place, at the earliest, three years after the final disposition date of the underlying criminal case.
Erased records are generally not disclosed to anyone. But a court may order disclosure to (1) a defendant in an action for false arrest, (2) a state prosecutor and a defense attorney when the defendant faces perjury charges based on his trial testimony, or (3) crime victims within two years after final disposition of the criminal case. Crime victims or their representatives must apply to the court in writing indicating that either they have filed a lawsuit to recover damages in connection with the crime or intend to file such a lawsuit (CGS § 54-142c).
DISPOSAL OF SEIZED PROPERTY
Generally, police can seize property pursuant to a validly issued search warrant or a search incident to a lawful arrest.
With several exceptions, courts must order seized property returned to its owner at the final disposition of the criminal action or as soon thereafter as practical. If there is no criminal action, the court must issue its order within six months after the owner makes a claim for the property's return.
Stolen property is returned to its owner sooner. A crime victim has the right to have any property he owns, which was seized by police in connection with an arrest, returned to him. The law requires law enforcement officers to notify owners and advise them that they can request their property. The law requires that the property be returned within 30 days of the request for return unless it is being held by the court as evidence and cause is shown for holding it longer. In the latter case, the court determines when the property must be returned.
If the seized property is currency that is not stolen, the police must notify the defendant or the owner of the property where the seizure took place within 10 days after the seizure. The defendant or property owner can request a hearing within 30 days after the notice. After the hearing (or if there is no request for one), the court must order the money placed in an account and returned to the owner when the case is disposed of or, if no criminal action, within six months after the request.
Seized fireworks and illegal drugs, including drug paraphernalia, are forfeited and destroyed. The court must order seized property that constitutes a nuisance, is illegal to possess, or is unclaimed six months after it is available is destroyed or given to charity, an educational institution, or a government agency or institution. However, unclaimed money is deposited in the General Fund and valuable unclaimed property is sold (CGS § 54-36a).