The U.S. Justice Department has asked the federal judiciary to eliminate public Internet access to plea agreements, reports the National Law Journal. The judiciary now provides public Internet access to all nonsealed plea agreements in electronic case files. The policy has been in effect since November 2004, but most courts did not implement it until they adopted an electronic case file system. The U.S. Judicial Conference is asking for public comments on whether the policy should be changed.
The Justice Department cited an increased number of violent crime prosecutions in which cooperating defendants and witnesses are needed and cited the “cottage industry engaged in republishing court filings about cooperators” on Web sites such as www.whosarat.com.” Criminal defense attorney Peter Goldberger of Philadelphia said the costs of restricting public Internet access to plea agreements outweigh the benefits. The Justice Department’s approach “presumes every cooperating witness is in danger and every accused person not cooperating is a danger to witnesses,” he said. “The fact is it’s a rare occurrence.”