TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
DATE: April 29, 2016
RE: Rule 41, N.D. Sup. Ct. Admin. R., Access to Court Records
The committee approved several amendments to Rule 41 at the last meeting. After the discussion, Mr. Hoy suggested that the committee take up the rule again at this meeting to consider amendments to protect the information of persons who have had criminal charges dismissed or who have been acquitted. He suggested the committee take a look at the Minnesota approach to protecting pre-conviction records that are posted online.
Like North Dakota, Minnesota posts basic criminal record information online. Minnesota had public hearings on its online record policy in 2004. According to the report of the hearings, excerpt attached, the area of records that received the most attention were records of unproven criminal allegations. Similar to the discussions in this committee, people argued that pre-conviction records should not be accessible over the Internet because easy access to these records stigmatizes people and creates barriers to innocent people getting jobs or housing. People arguing for access, in particular the press, said the public had a right to know what goes on in the justice system.
The Minnesota public access committee reached an interesting compromise. They agreed that access to pre-conviction records should be unrestricted at the courthouse, and that records should be fully searchable over courthouse terminals. They also agreed to keep the basic records available over the Internet. To protect people who had not been convicted of a crime, they decided to disable name searches of records in cases where a conviction did not result. Searchers are still allowed to find these records using a docket number search. A copy of the Minnesota rule is attached.
Proposed amendments to Rule 41 following the Minnesota approach are attached. The amendments would limit remote access to pre-conviction records by name search, except for those using secure public access. The Rule 41 draft contains the amendments the committee previously approved the proposed new amendment is highlighted.