August 1, 2008
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter concerning your ability to gain access to police records relating to an incident involving your thirteen year old son. You referred specifically to your “right to know what neighbor told police about [your] son.”
In this regard, as a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (j) of the Law.
Likely relevant in this instance is the first ground for denial of access, §87(2)(a), which pertains to records that “are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute.” One such statute is found in provisions of the Family Court Act relating to juveniles, §381.3, which states that:
“1. All police records relating to the arrest and disposition of any person under this article shall be kept in files separate and apart from the arrests of adults and shall be withheld from public inspection.
2. Notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision one, the family court in the county in which the petition was adjudicated may, upon motion and for good cause shown, order such records open:
(a) to the respondent or his parent or person responsible for his care; or
(b) if the respondent is subsequently convicted of a crime, to a judge of the court in which he was convicted, unless such record has been sealed pursuant to section 375.1.
3. An order issued under subdivision two must be in writing.”
Based on the foregoing, I believe that the records at issue may be disclosed only upon written order of a court.
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding and that I have been of assistance.