Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

KPA: Some Newspapers Seek Affidavits in Criminal Cases

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

KPA: Some Newspapers Seek Affidavits in Criminal Cases

Article excerpt

A few newspapers have sought access to affidavits in criminal cases since a new statute making them open to the public became law July 1, the head of the Kansas Press Association said late this past week.

Some newspapers are running into issues in which courts are being "overly cautious" in releasing information from affidavits in search warrants and arrest warrants, said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association.

The KPA is a professional organization representing more than 230 newspapers in Kansas.

In one jurisdiction, for instance, court was called into session to review a request for an affidavit, Anstaett said. In Shawnee County, a judge reviews a written one-page request, consults with prosecution and defense attorneys, and decides how much of the affidavits to redact and how much to release.

The Kansas Legislature made a strong statement in favor of unsealing affidavits when the members passed the statute this year, Anstaett said. In the House of Representatives, one representative out of 125 voted against the bill, and the Senate approved the measure 40-0.

"I think it would behoove the prosecution to take the statute seriously and open the affidavits," Anstaett said.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor favors the statute opening the affidavits.

"Any time we can increase transparency in government, I think it's a good thing," Taylor said.

The statute has limits on what can be released, Taylor said, such as identities of some people in a case and redacting information about an ongoing investigation.

In Sedgwick County, District Attorney Marc Bennett has said it is his goal to expedite the affidavit requests so they are available as soon as possible, Anstaett said.

Passing legislation to open affidavits in criminal cases was needed to correct a wrong found in Kansas law, Anstaett said.

"Nearly every other state in the union provides that these affidavits are presumed to be open court records if an arrest has been made or a search warrant served," Anstaett said.

"News coverage of our law enforcement and court system is an integral part of helping to meet what in America we call 'the people's right to know,' " Anstaett said. "When the people have the facts, they are equipped to judge whether their system of justice is fair and impartial."

Anstaett said the press association had sought to change the law four times in the 10 years he has been KPA executive director. …

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