State representatives on Thursday took a step toward more openness in the criminal justice system, giving approval to a bill to open arrest and search warrant affidavits to public view.
The affidavits outline the reasons that police give to judges to obtain warrants to either bring people into custody or search private property. Most states allow access to the records after the arrest is made or the search is concluded.
But under Kansas’ records law, such affidavits are presumed to be a closed document unless someone can obtain a court order to release the information.
That has generated a spate of complaints from people whose homes have been searched without a clear explanation of why the search was taking place.
The bill to open the records, House Bill 2555, also is strongly supported by the news media, which in other states use the affidavits to report on police activities.
The bill has encountered some opposition from associations representing criminal prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett earlier raised concerns that making the documents public would be a drain on government resources because of the need to black out confidential information.
HB 2555 would require court officials to remove some information from the affidavits before making them public, including:
• Information that would compromise a criminal investigation
• Information that would expose law enforcement agents or other parties in the investigation to personal danger
• Identifying information of victims of sex crimes
• The names of minors
• Personal information such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and financial account information.
Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, acknowledged that opening the affidavits would make some extra work for courts and prosecutors.
However, he said it’s a small price to pay for open and transparent government.
“It’s typical that people affected would find it easier to not have these rules in place,” Rubin said. “We have open meeting and open records rules that apply to us and it might get in the way of us enjoying dinners at Cedar Crest (the governor’s mansion) the way we would like.”
The only representative to speak against the bill was Rep. Jan Pauls, D-Hutchinson.
Later, she said she supports opening the affidavits to people who are the subject of a search or arrest warrant, but not to the general public.
When the details of alleged crimes are made public, especially in small communities, “It’s pretty easy to figure out who it is,” she said.
She also said it could actually reduce transparency if prosecutors opt to pursue indictments through grand juries, a completely closed proceeding, instead of using the regular process.
The House passed the bill 113-10. It now goes to the Senate.