January 9, 2006
We are in receipt of your December 7, 2005 determination of an appeal made by Ms. Beth Kissinger. We respectfully disagree with your determination, and offer the following comments.
First, §87(2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Law permits an agency to withhold records or portions thereof when disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy". In our opinion that provision might be applicable relative to the deletion of identifying details in a variety of situations, i.e., where a record identifies a confidential source, a witness, or perhaps a victim. However, when the matter has been adjudicated and records are accessible to the public from a court pursuant to the Uniform Justice Court Act, we believe that the related police report should be accessible. In relevant part, §2019-a provides that:
"The records and dockets of the court except as otherwise provided by law shall be at reasonable times open for inspection to the public."
Further, the same provision directs that:
"The record of every criminal action shall state the names of the witnesses sworn and their places of residence, and if in a city, the street and house number."
Because proceedings before a Justice Court are public, and the identity and testimony of every witness before the court is accessible, we are of the opinion that there is no basis on which to categorically refuse to release the entire police report.
Second, where the matter has been adjudicated and the victim of the offense is the requestor of the record, it is our opinion that the risk of invading a witness’s privacy is non-existent, except in the circumstance where a witness may not have become known to the court or made public during the course of a proceeding. In the unlikely event that the police report contains information about a person which was not brought before the court, it may be that the release of such information would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, in which case, such information could be redacted from the report.
We hope this helps to clarify your understanding of the Freedom of Information Law and that you will reconsider your response to Ms. Kissinger.
Camille S. Jobin-Davis
cc: Ms. Beth Kissinger