July 27, 2000
ACCESS TO CRIMINAL RECORD INFORMATION
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Attorney
You wanted to know the statutory obstacles to sharing criminal record information.
The law makes numerous criminal documents confidential and not subject to disclosure and limits the disclosure of others. Some records are confidential based on the subject (i.e., juvenile records), others are confidential based on the content (i.e., nonconviction information), and still others are confidential if disclosure would not be in the public's best interest (e.g., certain law enforcement investigative reports).
Access to certain records is limited to the subject, researchers, and law enforcement agencies.
The Criminal Justice Information System Governing Board oversees an offender-based tracking system, which allows criminal justice agencies and the Division of Public Defender Services to share criminal history records. These records may be found at the State Police Bureau of Identification, the court, and law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.
The remainder of this report summarizes the various laws by record type or subject.
ACCESS TO CRIMINAL RECORDS
Connecticut has a comprehensive body of law governing access to criminal record information. Generally, criminal investigations may be kept confidential, arrest and conviction information is public, and bail and nonconviction information is confidential. The public can access the information subject to disclosure by contacting the local police department involved in a particular investigation or the court where the matter is heard.
Scope and Summary of Grand Jury Investigations
Applications for and orders authorizing grand jury investigations are sealed. A summary of the scope of the investigation may be treated confidentially to ensure the public safety of any person, to ensure that the investigation would not be adversely affected, or to comply with a state law or court rule that prohibits disclosure. The investigation is private unless a majority of the panel decides that disclosure would be in the public's best interest (CGS § 54-47e).
Law Enforcement 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 designated by the police department as an arrest or incident report, news release, or other similar reports must be disclosed only 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 uncorrobated (CGS § 1-210 (b)(3)).
The law 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)).
All information provided to the Office of the Bail Commissioner is confidential and for the sole purpose of determining and recommending the conditions of release. But this information may be provided to probation officers, Superior Court's Family Division for reports on family violence cases, and agencies and organizations under contract with the Office of Alternative Sanctions to monitor people released on bail. Additionally, nonidentifying information may be disclosed to qualified people for research related to criminal justice administration and conviction information must be publicly available (CGS § 54-63d(c)(d) and (e)).
Nonconviction information is generally not available to the public. It is, however, available to the offender, his attorney, researchers who need it for evaluation or statistical analysis, anyone authorized by court order or statute to receive criminal history record information, criminal justice agencies, and any person or agency requiring such information to implement a statute or executive order that expressly refers to criminal conduct (CGS §§ 54-142k(c) and (d), 54-142m, and 54-142n). “Nonconviction information” means criminal history record information that has been erased, information relating to people granted youthful offender status, and continuances that are more than 13 months old (CGS § 54-142g(e)).
Rape Shield Statutes
State criminal procedure statutes require the names and addresses of sexual assault victims and victims of risk of injury or impairing the morals of a minor to be kept confidential, except such information must be available to the accused in the same manner and time as such information is available to people accused of other crimes (CGS § 54-86e).
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 any criminal history record information that has not been erased which 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 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 court must seal the files of a youth (someone age 16 or 17) who is granted youthful offender status or a person charged with driving under the influence or a drug crime and admitted to the pretrial alcohol or drug education program. If the person successfully completes the program and does not offend again, the records are erased and never made public. But youthful offender records are available to criminal justice and treatment personnel, the youth's attorney, and his parent or guardian. Crime victims and their representatives have access to erased records for the first year after the criminal case is disposed of for the purpose of bringing a civil lawsuit against the criminal defendant (CGS §§ 54-76l; 54-56g; and 54-56i).
Sexual Offender Registrants
When a sexual offender is no longer required to register his name, address, identifying factors, and criminal history record with the public safety commissioner, the commissioner and the police department or state police troop retaining the information must destroy it (CGS § 54-258 (a)(3)).
Police, court, and prosecutorial records must be erased when (1) a criminal case is dismissed or nolled, (2) a defendant is acquitted or granted an absolute pardon, or (3) the crime for which he was convicted is later decriminalized (CGS § 54-142a). Juvenile delinquency records and records of children who are members of families with service needs must be erased after (1) the child is discharged from the Superior Court's supervision or the Department of Children and Families' custody; (2) two to four years, depending on the seriousness of the case, have passed; (3) no other juvenile proceedings have been instituted against the child; and (4) he is at least 16 years of age (CGS § 46b-146).
Erased records may not be disclosed, except under limited circumstances, but they are generally not physically destroyed unless the defendant requests it. Records erased due to decriminalization of a crime, however, must be destroyed without a request (CGS §§ 54-142a and 54-142d).
The law allows erased records to be disclosed to crime victims or their representatives if they make a written request to the court indicating that they have filed or intend to file a lawsuit as a result of the crime. The court may only grant requests received within one year after the date of disposition of the criminal case (CGS § 54-142c).
Juvenile Delinquency Records
Generally, juvenile delinquency records are confidential and as such only available to people, agencies, and agency employees that either are involved in the delinquency proceedings or providing services directly to the child. However, the records must also be disclosed to (1) authorized agents of these agencies, (2) authorized agents or employees of agencies that design and deliver services and probation treatment for juvenile offenders, (3) Judicial Branch employees who need access to perform their duties, (4) Division of Public Defender Services employees and agents, (5) crime victims, (6) any person with a legitimate interest in the information if a court orders it, and (7) the record subject once he reaches age 18.
Delinquency records may be disclosed in connection with bail or sentencing reports in open court during criminal proceedings involving the subject of such records (CGS § 46b-124).
COORDINATING ACCESS TO CRIMINAL JUSTICE INFORMATION
The 12-member Criminal Justice Information System Governing Board oversees an offender-based tracking system. The system allows criminal justice agencies and the Division of Public Defender Services to (1) share criminal history records and (2) electronically access offender and case data on felonies, misdemeanors, violations, motor vehicle violations, motor vehicle offenses punishable by imprisonment, and infractions. The board determines how the agencies and the Division of Public Defender Services access and share information, subject to statutory requirements for record erasure, security, and privacy.
Board members include the chief court administrator, public safety and correction commissioners, chief state's attorney, chief public defender, Department of Information Technology's chief information officer, and president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association (PA 99-14).
RETAINING CRIMINAL JUSTICE INFORMATION
The State Police Bureau of Identification is the state's central repository for criminal history record disposition information. Local police departments have fingerprints, uniform arrest report information, sworn statements and confessions, and investigative information. Courts have much of the same information plus court transcripts and dispositions. Criminal justice agencies may also have all or some of this information.
Court records may be obtained from the clerk of court. But, within one week to 10 days after a matter is finally disposed of, the court file is sent to the Financial Services Unit of the Judicial Department (CGS § 51-52). Within six weeks, this unit forwards the file to the Superior Court Records Center, which stores all files.
Law enforcement agencies must retain investigation records pertaining to felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions for 10 years, according to the retention schedule adopted by the Public Records Administrator. They must keep records of violations that have been decriminalized for at least three years and homicide records permanently. They must review records of uncorroborated allegations of criminal activity one year after they created them and destroy them 90 days later if the activity cannot be corroborated (CGS § 1-216).