Arizona Redactions for Crime Victims Improper
(CN) - Prosecutors need a court order to redact the birth dates of crime victims from documents they must disclose to the defense, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled.
This issue arose in the cases of Robert Lee Gill, who was charged with three counts of theft of a means of transportation, and James Dean Koontz, who was charged with domestic violence and aggravated assault.
In both cases, defense lawyers moved to compel disclosure of law enforcement reports after prosecutors redacted the victims' birth dates.
The trial courts sided with the defense, but the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the rulings in a consolidated order, citing the victims' right to privacy.
Koontz pleaded guilty, but the Gill case continued to the Arizona Supreme Court, which reversed the disclosure decision on March 26.
The rules of disclosure do not allow prosecutors to redact information unilaterally, according to the eight-page opinion.
While victims have a statutory right to withhold locating information when they testify in court, "this section is inapplicable both because birth dates are 'identifying information,' not 'locating information,' and because the disclosure of law enforcement reports does not involve victim testimony," Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales for the five-judge court.
Arizona had argued that the Internet makes it easier for someone to use a birth date to gain access to a host of other personal information, but the court said birth dates are nevertheless too important a detail to face redaction.
"For example, a birth date may help identify the victim of a crime," Bales wrote. "Likewise, a victim's exact age may be relevant as an element of an offense or a factor for determining the corresponding punishment. A birth date may also allow the parties to determine if the victim has a criminal history, which can affect the victim's credibility, and may allow defense counsel to identify possible conflicts that could prevent counsel from representing a defendant."