Wednesday, December 27, 2006

N.H. court eases access to police records

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has issued a ruling that eases access to police investigatory records under the state's Right-to-Know Law. In the Dec. 20 opinion, Murray v. New Hampshire Division of State Police, Special Investigation Unit, the court held that the state police force had failed to meet its burden of showing that release of the requested records would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

The records request came from a Massachusetts man, Frederick J. Murray, whose daughter disappeared three years ago after her car was involved in a one-car accident in New Hampshire. Murray requested numerous records pertaining to the state's investigation of her disappearance, all of which were denied, save for a single, minor exception.

The Supreme Court said that the Right-to-Know Law should be interpreted "with a view to providing the utmost information." The law does not explicitly address police investigative files, so the court said that access should be decided using the six-prong test applied under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The trial court relied on the first prong of this test -- that production of the records "could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings" -- but the Supreme Court found that the state had failed to show this. It therefore remanded the case to the trial court with instructions that the state present more specific information on how disclosure of each record would meet this test.

Foster's Online has this report on the decision.

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