GR 31(l) - Access to evaluations, presentence reports, probation and compliance recordsComments for GR 31(l) must be received no later than June 30, 2013.
GR 9 Cover Sheet
Suggested Amendments to
Amend General Rule 31: Access to Court Records
Purpose: The Supreme Court requested the District and Municipal Court Judges Association (DMCJA) review the apparent conflict between GR 31 and ARLJ 9 and provide a recommendation to resolve the conflict. The DMCJA has determined that because access to court records in courts of limited jurisdiction is governed by two court rules that are not entirely consistent with each other, GR 31 and ARLJ 9, it may create confusion for courts and the public. DMCJA therefore recommends the repeal of ARLJ 9 and related rules CrRLJ 8.10 and 8.11, with the simultaneous amendment to GR 31 by adding a new section (l).
GR 31, Access to Court Records, is applicable to all Washington courts and establishes a presumption of public access to court records, in keeping with "article I, section 10 of the Washington State Constitution." GR 31(a). GR 31 requires that certain "personal identifiers," such as social security numbers, financial account numbers and driver's license numbers, be omitted or redacted from documents filed with the court. GR 31 also recognizes that "[a]cess to court records is not absolute and shall be consistent with reasonable expectations of personal privacy as provided by article 1, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution and shall not unduly burden the business of the courts."
GR 31 reflects the Supreme Court's approval of the common law presumption of open court records. "The common law right of access to judicial records is well recognized in this country." Cowles Publ'g Co. v. Murphy, 96 Wn.2d 584, 588, 637 P.2d 966 (1981). However, this right to public access is not absolute. The court can prohibit access to certain records. For example, if law enforcement, a victim or other concerned party objects to disclosure of a court record and the court determines that security or privacy interests outweigh the presumption of open access, disclosure may be prohibited or restricted. Id. at 589; Seattle Times Co. v. Eberharter, 105 Wn.2d 144, 147-48, 713 P.2d 710 (1986).
DMCJA has recommended that ARLJ 9 be repealed, due primarily to its conflict with GR 31. If ARLJ 9 were repealed, disclosure of court records in courts of limited jurisdiction would be governed by GR 31 and any statutory provisions restricting access to certain types of documents. As discussed above, GR 31 provides that court records are presumptively open to access unless otherwise provided by law or rule. The documents currently protected from open public access under ARLJ 9, such as presentence reports, alcohol/drug evaluations, compliance reports regarding treatment, and probation officer's reports, would potentially be available for public review if ARLJ 9 were repealed without being replaced by another rule or provision.
If ARLJ 9 is repealed, it will be necessary to amend GR 31 to address the personal privacy interests in certain information found in the court records. A particular concern for courts of limited jurisdiction is the high volume of cases these courts handle and the number of pro se defendants who may not appreciate the need to make a motion to preserve their privacy interests in certain court records.
The DMCJA recommends that the Supreme Court amend GR 31 to include a new subsection that addresses the personal privacy concerns in certain types of court records, as shown in the proposed amendment, GR 31(l). The proposed addition to GR 31 is modeled after GR 22, Access to Family Law and Guardianship Court Records. The proposed amendment provides a presumption that unless the court orders otherwise in a criminal case, certain documents containing personal private information about a defendant are private. Access to these records is available for the defendant, prosecuting attorney and defense attorney for the case. Upon motion, the court may allow access to other interested persons if it finds no statute or other court rule prohibits access and the public interest in granting access or the personal interest of the petitioner outweighs the privacy and safety interests of the defendant or other persons mentioned in the records. The DMCJA believes that this proposed amendment strikes the proper balance between preserving constitutional access to court records with the protection of individual privacy and law enforcement interests.
The DMCJA understands that other groups, such as the Superior Court Judges' Association, may have records that they feel should be subject to protection as well. The proposed amendment is left open-ended at this time to accommodate requests from other court levels regarding this general rule.
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