A&A: Multiple CPRA Requests For A Decades Old Homicide Have Been Denied Without Explanation

Q: I am seeking information from the California Department of Justice regarding a 1981 multiple homicide. I have reason to believe the two suspects in the homicides were not arrested because one of the suspects was a confidential informant at the time. I have asked for clarification or other information on the matter but have turned down several times in the past.

A: The law enforcement exception to the California Public Records Act allows an agency to refuse to disclose the identity of a person who has furnished information in confidence to a law enforcement officer.  Gov. Code §6254(f).  The same provision exempts from disclosure law enforcement records of complaints, investigations, records of intelligence information or security procedures, and investigatory or security files.  Id.  Documents that are exempt from disclosure under the law enforcement exception remain exempt even after the investigation is over.  Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 337, 361-62 (1993).

However, law enforcement agencies are required to make certain categories of information public, even though those categories of information are generally contained in law enforcement investigatory files.  There are three general categories of information contained in law enforcement investigatory files that must be disclosed: information which must be disclosed to victims, their authorized representatives and insurance carriers; information relating to arrestees; and information relating to complaints or requests for assistance.  In case helpful, information on the first two categories is provided below.

Disclosure to Victims, Authorized Representatives, Insurance Carriers:  Except where disclosure would endanger the successful completion of an investigation or a related investigation, or endanger the safety of a witness, certain information relating to specific listed crimes must be disclosed upon request to a victim, the victim’s authorized representative, an insurance carrier against which a claim has been or might be made, or any person suffering bodily injury, or property damage or loss. Govt. Code § 6254(f).  The type of information that must be disclosed under this section (except where it endangers safety of witnesses or the investigation itself) includes: name and address of persons involved in or witnesses to incident (other than confidential informants); description of property involved; date, time, and location of incident; all diagrams; statements of parties to incident; and statements of all witnesses (other than confidential informants).  Id.

Information Regarding Arrestees: The PRA mandates that the following information be released pertaining to every individual arrested by the local law enforcement agency, except where releasing the information would endanger the safety of persons involved in an investigation or endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation: full name and occupation of the arrestee; physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight; time, date, and location of arrest; time and date of booking; factual circumstances surrounding arrest; amount of bail set; time and manner of release or location where arrestee is being held; and all charges the arrestee is being held on, including outstanding warrants and parole or probation holds.  Govt. Code § 6254(f)(1).

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.