Prisoners Have the Right to Access Court Records in Their Own Cases
The First Amendment generally gives anyone the right to access court records (with rare exceptions when the records can be sealed). But a Louisiana statute limits prisoners’ right to file public records requests, including for court records. That statute has been read (perhaps misread) to limit prisoners’ ability to get the records that reveal how the jury in his case voted. And that’s practically important now that the U.S. Supreme Court has held (in Ramos v. Louisiana) that nonunanimous convictions are generally unconstitutional, and many prisoners will be challenging their convictions on those grounds.
Several months ago, when Ramos was pending, the Louisiana Supreme Court was asked to recognize the prisoners’ right of access in such situations (Logan v. State). And the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment, and I filed an amicus brief in support (many thanks to our pro bono counsel, William Brock Most).
Yesterday, the court agreed, and allowed applicant Donald Logan access to the relevant court records. The court’s decision relied on the Louisiana Constitution’s right of access provision (“No person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents, except in cases established by law”) and past Louisiana decisions interpreting the statute, and our brief was based on the First Amendment. (The petition canvassed state law well, and we thought we would focus on the federal question.) Still, we hope that our arguments might have helped push the court in the right direction:
Summary of the Argument
The First Amendment protects the right to access court records. That right belongs to all Americans, including prisoners. While the right can be overcome when necessary to protect prison security or a similar interest, permitting prisoners to access their jury polling information will not undermine security.
Article from Latest – Reason.com