August 19, 2005
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION EXEMPTION FOR SIGNED WITNESS STATEMENTS
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked for the legislative history of the Freedom of Information Act's (FOIA) disclosure exemption for signed statements of witnesses.
The Connecticut General Assembly established the witness statement exemption in 1994 in the same legislation that exempts the identity of witnesses not otherwise known if the disclosure would jeopardize their safety or subject them to threat or intimidation. Both exemptions were proposed as amendments to HB 5789, An Act Concerning a DNA Data Bank, the Registration of Sexual Offenders and the Disclosure of Arrest Record Information. After passage, the amended bill became PA 94-246. The exemptions were later codified at CGS § 1-210(b)(3)(B) and (A), respectively.
The witness statement exemption, Senate Amendment “A”, passed the Senate without any discussion. (The witness safety exemption was House “A”.) During the subsequent House debate of the bill as amended by House”A” and Senate “A”, then-Representative Ellen Scalettar stated that both witness exemptions were offered pursuant to an agreement with the State Police and the Office of the Chief State's Attorney. Representative Scalettar offered a third amendment, which she stated, together with the other two amendments, effectuated the total agreement with the State Police and the Office of the Chief State's Attorney. This amendment, House “B,” prohibits anyone from interpreting FOIA in a way that would limit the rights of litigants to discovery in civil or criminal matters. In other words, one party in a lawsuit could not use FOIA or its exemptions to prevent an opposing party from examining facts and documents in his possession that would help the opposing party prepare for trial.
As you know, FOIA requires all public agencies to make the records that they keep or maintain available to the public unless federal or state law, including the FOIA's exemptions, allows or requires them to be treated confidentially (CGS §1-210 (a)). Included in FOIA's delineation of exempt records are law enforcement records whose disclosure would be contrary to the public's interest. In addition to the records of witnesses stated above, the other exempt law enforcement records are:
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; and
6. allegations that must be destroyed after one year if uncorrobated (CGS § 1-210 (b)(3)).