California prosecutors no longer release routine information about defendants, including their criminal histories and parole or probation status, the Los Angeles Times reports. Attorney General Bill Lockyer said in a Sept. 20 legal opinion that furnishing such information from law enforcement computer databases violates defendants’ privacy rights. “It is quite a major change from what we have provided in the past. The Los Angeles D.A. has had a history of favoring the public’s right to know rather than keeping information secret,” said prosecutor Lael Rubin.
Along with a recent California Supreme Court decision restricting disclosure of police disciplinary records, the opinion significantly narrows the public’s access to information about the criminal justice system. “The public’s interest to disclose outweighs the privacy interest of the accused. It may be time for the legislature to take another look at what is a fair balance,” said Thomas W. Newton, general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said he favors pursuing new legislation to restore the public’s right to such information through the news media. “There’s a real interest for the public to know criminal histories at certain times and in context,” Cooley said.