C.A. Affirms Denial of Public Records Request for Names of Persons Arrested for DUI
Agreeing With a 1993 Opinion, Fifth District Says Statutory Right to Obtain Such Information Is Implicitly Restrict to That Which Is ‘Contemporaneous’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge properly denied a petition for a writ of mandate to compel a county to reveal the identities of three persons arrested months earlier for drunk driving, the Fifth District held yesterday, applying a 1993 decision from this district engrafting a limitation on a disclosure provision.
Government Code §6254(f)(1), a part of the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”), requires that unless a danger to a person or to an investigation would be created, there must be disclosure of “[t]he full name and occupation of every individual arrested” by a law enforcement agency, along with “the individual’s physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight” and other specified information. There is no express limitation in terms of timeliness.
However, Div. Three of the Court of Appeal for this district on Aug 31, 1993, in an opinion by Justice H. Walter Croskey (now deceased) said that the Legislature, in enacting §6254 in 1982, evinced an intent “only to continue the common law tradition of contemporaneous disclosure of individualized arrest information in order to prevent secret arrests and to mandate the continued disclosure of customary and basic law enforcement information to the press.”
In yesterday’s decision upholding Kern Superior Court Judge Stephen D. Schuett’s denial of a writ sought by Arizona resident Alisha Kinney, Justice Mark W. Snauffer said:
“Kusar’s holding that section 6254, subdivision (f)(l)’s, disclosure mandates are limited only to information pertaining to ‘contemporaneous’ police activity remains valid authority. Furthermore, although the Legislature has not defined what ‘contemporaneous’ means in this context, we conclude the information sought here, which was 11 to 12 months old when Kinney filed her request to the County, should not be considered ‘contemporaneous’ information based on the reasons supporting the holding in Kusar.”
Snauffer went on to say:
“Our conclusion that the arrest information sought in this case is not subject to disclosure should be limited as much as possible to the facts of this case. Requests made under the Act for arrest information will often pit two very important rights against each other—the public’s right to know and the individual’s right to privacy. The Legislature may wish to consider amending section 6254, subdivision (f), or otherwise provide clear guidance on when and how law enforcement agencies must make ‘contemporaneous’ information available to the public.”
Kinney had sought “the names of every individual arrested for DUI by the Kern County Sheriffs Department from March 1, 2020 through April 1. 2020.” The department supplied information, but with the names of the arrestees blotted out.
Through her attorney, Bridgette C. Toraason of Malibu, Kinney has brought like actions against various governmental entities.
Her objective in seeking the information is not clear. In her petition in Kern Superior Court, she says:
“The request need not stale the requestor’s purpose. Demanding to know the purpose of the request or the intended use of the information is, again, not something the agency may do. The CPRA states, in Government Code § 6257.5: ‘This chapter docs not allow limitations on access to a public record based upon the purpose for which the record is being requested, if the record is otherwise subject to disclosure.’ Respondents and Defendants, and each of them, and their employees have repeatedly stated that it is their department policy to determine the purpose of a records request, alluding to vague safety or privacy concerns, which is in clear violation of the CPRA.”
The case is Kinney v. Superior Court, 2022 S.O.S. 1479.
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