St. Landry

Feb 15, 2012 7:33 PM by Melissa Hawkes, Jim Hummel

St Landry Sex Crime Documents Resealed


Another reversal in St. Landry Parish, records regarding sex crimes are sealed again. Bringing you up to speed, February 3 KATC was restricted access to information regarding a rape arrest. We asked about the status of the case and were told they couldn't release that information because it was a sex crime.

On February 6th, a change of course, the clerk's office said they were wrong. Sex crime records would be opened, however the victims' names would be blacked out. When we tested the new policy today, we were told not everything is being made public as first indicated.

So why'd the policy change? Just one day after our interview with the clerk of court, four judges wrote up a new order saying sex crimes records were sealed again. With the exception of certified court minutes, which are edited to protect the victim's identity.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Dr. William Davie, with UL's Mass Communcation/Broadcast Department.  Davie teaches a course in media law and ethics.  "To me it looks unconstitutional at its face."  

"Public records are public record," said UL journalism professor Dr. Robert Buckman.  "If they're smart, they will realize that they've stuck their fists into something they can't get out of and admit that they're wrong and go along with the other 63 parishes and federal precedent."

KATC is currently consulting with our legal team to look into related precedent and the legality of the En Banc order, issued by four St. Landry Parish judges.

In that order, judges cite revised statue 46:1844 (w) which relates to the confidentiality of crime victims who are minors and victims of sex offenses.

Here's the statute in full:

RS 46:1844 W. Confidentiality of crime victims who are minors and victims of sex offenses.

(1)(a) In order to protect the identity and provide for the safety and welfare of crime victims who are minors under the age of eighteen years and of victims of sex offenses, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, all public officials and officers and public agencies, including but not limited to all law enforcement agencies, sheriffs, district attorneys, judicial officers, clerks of court, the Crime Victims Reparations Board, and the Department of Children and Family Services or any division thereof, shall not publicly disclose the name, address, or identity of crime victims who at the time of the commission of the offense are minors under eighteen years of age or of victims of sex offenses, regardless of the date of commission of the offense. The confidentiality of the identity of the victim who at the time of the commission of the offense is a minor under eighteen years of age or the victim of a sex offense may be waived by the victim. The public disclosure of the name of the juvenile crime victim by any public official or officer or public agency is not prohibited by this Subsection when the crime resulted in the death of the victim.

(b) In order to protect the identity and provide for the safety and welfare of crime victims who are minors under the age of eighteen years and of victims of sex offenses, notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, an attorney for any party shall be prohibited from publicly disclosing, except during trial, the name, address, or identity of crime victims who at the time of the commission of the offense are under eighteen years of age or are victims of sex offenses, regardless of the date of commission of the offense. An attorney may lawfully utilize initials, abbreviations, or other forms of indefinite descriptions on documents used in the performance of their duties to prevent the public disclosure of the name, address, or identity of such crime victims. If the name, address, or identity of such a crime victim must be disclosed in a motion or pleading, that motion or pleading shall be filed with the court requesting that it be kept under seal. Failure to comply with the provisions of this Subparagraph shall be punishable as contempt of court.

(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of Subparagraphs (a) and (b) of this Paragraph, all information regarding juvenile crime victims that is required by a child abduction alert system which assists law enforcement in the successful resolution of child abduction cases, such as the AMBER Alert network, shall be made available to such alert system as quickly as possible.

(2) For purposes of this Section, "sex offense" shall include the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape (R.S. 14:42), forcible rape (R.S. 14:42.1), simple rape (R.S. 14:43), sexual battery (R.S. 14:43.1), second degree sexual battery (R.S. 14:43.2), oral sexual battery (R.S. 14:43.3), intentional exposure to the AIDS virus (R.S. 14:43.5), stalking (R.S. 14:40.2), incest (R.S. 14:78), aggravated incest (R.S. 14:78.1), felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile (R.S. 14:80), indecent behavior with juveniles (R.S. 14:81), pornography involving juveniles (R.S. 14:81.1), molestation of a juvenile (R.S. 14:81.2), crime against nature (R.S. 14:89), aggravated crime against nature (R.S. 14:89.1), sexual battery of the infirm (R.S. 14:93.5), and video voyeurism (R.S. 14:283).

(3) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, all public officials, officers, and public agencies, including but not limited to all law enforcement agencies, sheriffs, district attorneys, judicial officers, clerks of court, the Crime Victims Reparations Board, and the Department of Children and Family Services or any division thereof, charged with the responsibility of knowing the name, address, and identity of crime victims who are minors or of crime victims of a sex offense as a necessary part of their duties shall have full and complete access to this information regarding a crime victim who is a minor or a victim of a sex offense. Either prior to or at the time of a request for information, the public official or officer or public agency shall take measures to prevent the public disclosure of the name, address, or identity of such a crime victim who is a minor or a victim of a sex offense, which may include the use of initials, abbreviations, or any other form of concealing the identity of the victim on all public documents.

(4) The provisions of this Subsection shall not apply to the requirement of promptly informing a defendant or his attorney of the name of the victim of a sexual crime during pretrial discovery.


Instead though of asking for a seal in each individual case dealing with a sex crime, the judges have issued a blanket restrictive order on all sex crime cases in the parish-both past and present.

Their order restricts releasing information such as grand jury indictments and the bill of information, which outlines specifics of what led up to the arrest and the official charges. What is made available is the edited court minutes. It's a summary of what went on in court that day including hearing dates, sentencing information and convictions.

We've contacted other Acadiana Parishes Clerk of Courts and they said most of the information St Landry Parish is restricting is available in their parishes. The general rule of thumb is if it's filed in the clerk's office, it is public unless there is extenuating circumstances and permission is given to withhold it.

The judges refused comment on this case citing pending litigation.

 

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