Freedom Of Information Laws And Your Rap Sheet 101

By , October 17th, 2012 | 4th Amendment, Legal, Media, New York, Police | 3 Comments
Handcuff behind the back

Freedom of Information Laws allows access to criminal records, with some exemptions (Photo by: Tom Arana-Wolfe/Wolf In Pig’s Clothing).

Everyone hopes that their skeletons stay hidden in their respective closets where they belong. However, freedom of information laws across the United States allow your brushes with the law to be accessed by prying eyes. That is how The Daily Beast gets all of its information and mug shot photographs for the article “The Most Arrested Celebrities.” However, states like New York place some restrictions to help balance out the right to keep society informed and the right of privacy of the individual.

New York State Department of Justice explains the purpose of New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL)is to give “rights of access to records reflective of governmental decisions and policies that affect the lives of every New Yorker” so that they are educated and informed on how their government works. It allows the public access into the inner workings of numerous agencies including law enforcement across the state.

Due to the private information found on many of these documents, the state legislature created exemptions to disclosure if the federal Freedom of Information Actdid not already make the exemption. One that applies across the board to all agencies none more importantly than law enforcement is if disclosure could endanger the life or safety of any person.

The four specific exemptions under NYS FOIL for law enforcement purposes:

·           Interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings
·           Deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication
·           Identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relating to a criminal investigation
·           Reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, except routine techniques and procedures

The information that can be retrieved under a FOIL request is different depending on who is requesting it. The most information available is to you about yourself.

FOIL request form

FOIL request forms can be filled out and mail or hand delivered to the police department’s central record section (Photo by: Tom Arana-Wolfe/Wolf In Pig’s Clothing).

“An applicant is entitled, with proof of I.D., to have his/her entire criminal history, including juvenile records and sealed records,” explains Suffolk County Police Department’s Freedom of Information Officer Janine Keleghan. “Redactions would be applied if there is personal information pertaining to another individual that the applicant may not have access to, such as month and date of birth, phone number, address and such.  Also, any information that could be construed as ‘confidential’ based on the type of incident would/could be redacted.  FOI is very vague in this regard, which is why it is imperative that each request be reviewed thoroughly insuring the protection of personal privacy.”

The press requesting the same information under FOIL would receive an entirely different result. “Juvenile and sealed information is withheld in its entirety,” says Keleghan. “Information that may be ‘personal’ in nature would be redacted and based on adjudication; additional information may be partially withheld or provided based on the case outcome.”

“The media receives no special treatment,” Keleghan explains the difference between a FOIL request of the press and a citizen. “However, the requestor’s relationship to the incident may lend itself to information not being withheld, such as address, date of birth and phone number.”

Normally, your current or prospective employer cannot obtain any additional information from law enforcement than the general public. If they require more, you must sign a waiver.

“A general waiver is usually provided which grants the requestor permission by the applicant in question to gain access to any or all records that may have been withheld under normal circumstances,” elaborates Keleghan.

No matter what, there is a good chance that some of this information is already scatter across world. Every newspaper has a local police beat. Local citizen bloggers for web sites like Patch.com upload articles throughout the day.

“What everyone needs to understand is that once you have been arrested,” states Keleghan, “you lose your right to privacy.”

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