Kansas Criminal Records Closed to Public; Some Pols Caught Unaware

The Kansas Legislature has closed most criminal records to the public–records that are readily available in most other states, reports the Kansas City Star. The Kansas law goes so far as to make it a misdemeanor crime for a law enforcement agency or prosecutor to release those records without a judge's order. “I know of no other states where these records can be closed forever,” said Ken Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonprofit that works to protect the public's right to open government.

Several law enforcement officials in Kansas said the records are closed to protect the rights of the accused and to keep publicity from tainting a jury. In addition, the records may contain the name of a confidential informant or investigation techniques such as wiretapping that police want to keep secret. Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe said that if certain information is released it could subject people to harm or death. As in national security matters, “Most people would say, 'We don't need to know,'” he said. But several state legislators interviewed did not realize how restrictive Kansas law is regarding criminal records and said the Legislature needs to revamp the law.

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