January 27, 1997
Mr. Cedric Partee
P.O. Box 500
Elmira, NY 14902
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.
Dear Mr. Partee:
I have received your letter of December 16. You have sought assistance in obtaining the "rap sheet" of a prosecution witness from the Office of the New York County District Attorney.
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 (i) of the Law.
With respect to criminal history records, the general repository of those records is the Division of Criminal Justice Services. While the subject of a criminal history record may obtain such record from the Division, it has been held that criminal history records maintained by that agency are exempted from public disclosure pursuant to §87(2)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law [Capital Newspapers v. Poklemba, Supreme Court, Albany County, April 6, 1989]. Nevertheless, if, for example, criminal conviction records were used in conjunction with a criminal proceeding by a district attorney, it has been held that the district attorney must disclose those records [see Thompson v. Weinstein, 150 AD 2d 782 (1989)].
It is noted that in a recent decision rendered by the Appellate Division, Second Department, the Court reconfirmed its position that criminal history records are, in general, exempt from disclosure (Woods v. Kings County District Attorney's Office, ___ AD 2d ___, NYLJ, December 31, 1996). In Woods, the Court upheld a denial of a request for the rap sheets "of numerous individuals who were not witnesses at [the petitioner's] trial." However, it distinguished its determination from the holding in Thompson, supra, in which it was found that a rap sheet must be disclosed when the request is "limited to the criminal convictions and any pending criminal actions against an individual called by the People as a witness in the petitioner's criminal trial." Therefore, insofar as your request involves records analogous to those found to be available in Thompson, I believe that the District Attorney would be required to disclose.
Finally, it is also noted that while records relating to convictions may be available from the courts or other sources, when charges are dismissed in favor of an accused, records relating to arrests that did not result in convictions are generally sealed pursuant to §160.50 of the Criminal Procedure Law.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Gary A. Galperin