|IN THE MATTER OF
ACCESS TO COURT RECORDS
CONTAINING CRIMINAL HISTORY
* * * * * * * * * * *
WHEREAS, Article 27, §746 requires the Court of Appeals or its Chief Judge to adopt, pursuant to Article IV, §18 of the Maryland Constitution, appropriate rules and regulations for the Judicial Branch of the government governing the collection, reporting, and dissemination of criminal history record information; and
WHEREAS, as set forth in Article 27, §742, the purposes of the subtitle that requires the adoption of such rules and regulations are to assure that accurate and current criminal history record information is available for criminal justice agencies and to protect the rights of individuals from "improper and unwarranted intrusions into their privacy;" and
WHEREAS, Rules 16-308 and 16-503, the predecessors of which were amended or enacted in 1978 to provide for the collection and reporting of criminal history record information and for access to court records of judicial proceedings maintained by the court clerks, do not expressly address access to court records by citizens for the purpose of obtaining criminal history record information about another citizen or access to computerized criminal case records maintained in a centralized system; and
WHEREAS, the purpose of the Maryland Public Information Act, as set forth in the Annotated Code of Maryland, State Government Article, §10-612(a), is to permit citizens to be informed about "the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees; and
WHEREAS, the State Government Article, provides in §10-612 (b) that the Act is to be construed to permit inspection of a public record "unless an unwarranted invasion of privacy of a person in interest would result," and provides in §10-613(a) that a custodian is to permit inspection of a public record "[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law;" and
WHEREAS, in United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee, 489 U.S. 749, 773 (1989), the Court, in construing the Freedom of Information Act, which is similar to Maryland's Public Information Act, explained that the Act "focuses on the citizens' right to be informed about 'what their government is up to," that "[o]fficial information that sheds light on an agency's performance of its statutory duties falls squarely within that statutory purpose," that such purpose "is not fostered by disclosure of information about private citizens that is accumulated in various government files but that reveals little or nothing about an agency's own conduct," and that when "one private citizen is seeking information about another - the requester does not intend to discover anything about the conduct of the agency that has possession of the requested records;" and
WHEREAS, in that same case, 489 U.S. at 780, the United States Supreme Court concluded that a third party's request under the Freedom of Information Act for law enforcement records of a private citizen "can reasonably be expected to invade that citizen's privacy, and that when the request seeks no 'official information' about a Government agency, but merely records that the Government happens to be storing, the invasion of privacy is unwarranted;" and
WHEREAS, the Court further noted, 489 U.S. at 764, the "vast difference between the public records that might be found after a diligent search of courthouse files ... and a computerized summary located in a single clearinghouse of information;" and
WHEREAS, the criminal case records of the District Court of Maryland and the circuit courts have become increasingly computerized and centralized; and
WHEREAS, requests by third parties for access to those electronically stored records containing criminal history record information have become numerous and often seek no official information about the courts or other government agency or activity, but merely records that a unit of the Judicial Branch happens to be storing; and
WHEREAS, the Judicial Branch is duly concerned that regulations are needed to govern access to criminal case records in order to insure the security of the criminal justice information system and to protect against the improper dissemination of criminal history record information;
NOW THEREFORE, I, Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and administrative head of the Judicial Branch, pursuant to the authority conferred by Article IV, §18 of the Constitution, do hereby order this ______ day of _________________, 2000, that:
1. Direct access to criminal case records by electronic means, such as dial-up access, shall be restricted to attorneys and other officers of the courts, to criminal justice agencies as defined in Article, 27, §743(f), and to out-of-state and federal criminal justice agencies that have entered into an agreement with the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals or the Chief Judge's designee for such access.
2. Attorneys and other officers of the court receiving dial-up access pursuant to this Order may not confirm the existence or nonexistence of criminal history record information, nor disseminate such information, to any person or agency that would not be eligible to receive the information itself; a violation of this prohibition shall constitute a violation of the applicable Code of Conduct.
3. The clerks of the trial courts shall afford access to criminal case records pursuant to Rules 16-308c and 16-503b only when the requesting party clearly identifies each record by case number or by the name of the defendant, the nature of the charge, and the approximate date that the charge was filed.
4. Criminal history record information contained in computerized, centrally stored criminal case records maintained by the Judicial Branch may not be disseminated except to a person or agency engaged in legitimate research, evaluation, or statistical activities who, pursuant to an agreement with the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals or the Chief Judge's designee, is to receive only the criminal history record information necessary for those activities, which information shall not include the names or other information allowing identification of individuals, such as fingerprint numbers, case numbers, or the like.
5. This Order shall be effective
immediately for the purpose of allowing implementation.
ROBERT M. BELL