December 13, 2011
ACCESS TO GRAND JURY RECORDS
By: Christopher Reinhart, Chief Attorney
You asked about the law on access to grand jury records including the process for sealing records and who can access which records.
Connecticut law authorizes a grand jury investigation under certain circumstances. Under the grand jury law, investigations generally take place in private but various documents can be available to the public or individuals at different stages of the investigation. Under the grand jury law:
1. the initial application for a grand jury investigation and the order of the three-judge panel reviewing it are sealed;
2. the panel's summary of an investigation's scope, which it submits to the chief court administrator, is available to the public unless the panel orders it sealed;
3. the grand jury's investigation is private unless the panel determines that disclosure is in the public interest;
4. a grand jury's finding of probable cause is disclosed to the public unless the court prohibits it on request of a prosecutor who requested the investigation;
5. a defendant can get sealed records containing his or her testimony; and
6. witnesses can get sealed records with their testimony if it is in the best interest of justice.
The law allows (1) a person to apply to the panel for disclosure of sealed portions of the record and (2) the panel to disclose any part of the record that is in the public interest. But records containing allegations where the grand jury did not find probable cause cannot be disclosed unless the subject of the allegation requests release.
GRAND JURY APPLICATION, ORDER, AND SCOPE
Connecticut law only authorizes grand jury investigations under certain circumstances (see BACKGROUND). The law allows a judge, the chief state's attorney, or a state's attorney to apply to a panel of three Superior Court judges specially designated by the Supreme Court chief justice, for a grand jury investigation. The panel reviewing applications may approve them and order an investigation.
The law seals the panel's order and the application, but the panel must submit a summary of the investigation's scope to the chief court administrator. This summary is available to the public unless a majority of the panel determines it should seal the summary to protect an individual's safety or the investigation itself, or to comply with other statutes or court rules (CGS § 54-47e).
GRAND JURY INVESTIGATIONS
The law requires the grand jury (which consists of a judge, state referee, or three judges) to conduct its investigation in private unless the panel, by majority vote, determines that disclosure is in the public interest (CGS § 54-47e).
GRAND JURY FINDINGS AND RECORDS
Generally, grand jury findings of probable cause are disclosed to the public unless a prosecutor who requested the investigation requests nondisclosure and the court grants it after holding a hearing and making certain findings. A defendant can get sealed records containing his or her testimony. Witnesses can get sealed records with their testimony if disclosure is in the best interest of justice.
Filing Findings and Records
Within 60 days after the investigation ends, the law requires the grand jury to file its finding with the court, the panel of judges that receives applications for grand jury investigations, and the chief state's attorney or the state's attorney, if any, who applied for the grand jury. The finding must state whether there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed. It may include all or part of the investigation record. However, it may not disclose allegations that a person committed a crime unless the grand jury found probable cause that the person committed it or the person requests release of that part of the record (CGS § 54-47g(a)).
In addition, the stenographer must file the investigation record with the court and the panel. This record is available upon request, and without a hearing, to the chief state's attorney or the state's attorney, who applied for the grand jury (CGS § 54-47g(a)).
Public Access and Chief State's Attorney or State's Attorney Request for Nondisclosure
The grand jury finding is open to public inspection and copying at the court seven days after it is filed, unless, within that period, the chief state's attorney or the state's attorney with whom it was filed requests that the grand jury not disclose all or part of its finding. If such a request is filed, the grand jury must notify the person filing the motion and any other interested parties (which can include the subject of the testimony and those who testified) and hold a hearing within 15 days. The grand jury must issue a decision and send copies to all those it notified within five days of the hearing's completion. It can prohibit disclosure only if it specifically finds on the record that:
1. there is a substantial probability that one of the following interests will be prejudiced by publicity: (a) a person's right to a fair trial, (b) prevention of potential defendants from fleeing, (c) prevention of subornation of perjury or witness tampering, or (d) protection of the lives and reputations of innocent people which would be significantly damaged by release of uncorroborated information;
2. prohibiting disclosure would prevent that prejudice; and
3. reasonable alternatives to prohibiting disclosure cannot adequately protect that interest.
A nondisclosure order must be written to protect the particular interest at issue. A person aggrieved by an order has 72 hours to appeal it to the Appellate Court (CGS § 54-47g(b) and (c)).
Applications for Disclosure of Sealed Records
A person can apply to the panel for disclosure of sealed portions of the record and the panel must give notice and hold a hearing on such an application. By a majority vote, the panel can disclose any part of the record that is in the public interest. But records containing allegations where the grand jury did not find probable cause cannot be disclosed unless the subject of the allegation requests release. A person aggrieved by the panel's order has 72 hours to appeal it to the Appellate Court (CGS § 54-47g(a)).
Access by Witnesses and the Accused
Even if the grand jury issues a nondisclosure order, a witness can apply to the criminal presiding judge in the judicial district where the investigation record is filed (or the judge's designee) for access to and a copy of the record of his or her testimony. The witness must have reasonable access and be allowed to copy this record unless the judge or his or her designee finds after a hearing and for good cause that it is not in the best interest of justice (CGS § 54-47g(f)). If a person accused of a crime in the investigation requests access to or a copy of the record of his or her own testimony, the presiding judge or his or her designee must grant it (CGS § 54-47g(g)).
Topics of Grand Jury Investigations
Under Connecticut law, crimes charged by the state on or after May 26, 1983 are prosecuted by complaint or information, rather than grand jury indictment. Currently, the law only allows a grand jury investigation of:
1. state and local government corruption;
2. Medicaid vendor fraud;
3. racketeering activity under state law;
4. election law violations;
5. felonies involving the unlawful use or threatened use of physical force or violence committed with intent to intimidate or coerce civilian populations or a unit of government; and
6. class A, B, or C felonies or unclassified felonies punishable by more than five years imprisonment, for which the chief state's attorney or state's attorney can show that there is no other means of learning if a crime has been committed or the identity of the perpetrator (CGS § 54-47b).