Denver Post Shines Light on Suppressed Court Documents

DENVER (CN) – A Denver Post investigation published this week sheds light on thousands of Colorado court cases suppressed by district judges over the last five years.

The investigation counts 6,700 cases that have been suppressed since 2013. Three-thousand of these cases remain under lock and key, including 345 felony criminal cases of which no public record even exists.

Since April 1, more than 268 felony cases have been suppressed around the state, with Arapahoe County leading the way with 87 such cases.

“Shrouded Justice,” published Wednesday by Denver Post investigative reporter David “FOIA” Migoya sheds light on the “thousands of Colorado court cases hidden from public view on judges’ orders.”

“Courthouse employees and many law enforcement officials, including prosecutors, will not even acknowledge the suppressed cases exist,” Migoya wrote in his story. “That means someone could be arrested, charged, convicted and sent to prison in Colorado without anyone seeing why, how or where, and whether the process was fair.”

Many of the suppressed civil cases aim to protect “victims of abuse or sexual assaults from additional public embarrassment” but some cases also appear to shield harassers as well.

When the Denver Post revealed just how many cases were being buried, 18th District Attorney George Brauchler responded with a policy that asks judges to discuss their reasoning with DAs prior to suppressing cases.

The 18th Judicial District encompasses the counties of Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln Counties, a territory as large as Connecticut populated by nearly a million residents.

The Denver Post investigation is the most recent chapter in the public’s struggle to access records in Colorado.

In June, the Colorado Supreme Court denied a petition filed by nonprofit news organization The Colorado Independent to access sealed court records from the trial of Sir Mario Owens.

Owens was sentenced to death row in 2008 for orchestrating the murder of a trial witness and his girlfriend. As Owens continues to appeal his sentence, The Colorado Independent sought to examine the allegation that the district attorney buried evidence favoring Owens’ defense.

In a five page opinion published June 11, the Colorado Supreme Court declined “the invitation that unfettered access to criminal justice records is guaranteed.”

Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Executive Director Jeffrey Roberts wrote that the decision “confounded some legal experts who worry about the decision’s impact on access to court files in Colorado.”

Cases are sealed when they meet certain legal criteria, whereas cases can be suppressed at the judge’s sole discretion.

State Court Administrator Christopher Ryan was not immediately available for comment.

 

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