Dual ar­rests should not be se­cret

The News-Times - - OPINION - By Michael Savino Mike Savino is lo­cal and state news edi­tor at the Record-Jour­nal in Meri­den and pres­i­dent of the Con­necti­cut Coun­cil for Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion.

The state Se­nate Thurs­day ap­proved leg­is­la­tion that, if en­acted into law, would pro­tect the iden­ti­ties of fam­ily vi­o­lence un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, ex­empt­ing their names from pub­lic scru­tiny when po­lice re­ports are dis­closed.

The leg­is­la­tion builds on ex­ist­ing ex­emp­tions for vic­tims of sex­ual as­sault or risk of in­jury to a mi­nor. But pro­posed lan­guage cre­ates a prob­lem when two par­ties are charged with fam­ily vi­o­lence of­fenses.

When two par­ties are charged, a prac­tice known as dual ar­rest, they are also both vic­tims, mean­ing the lan­guage, as writ­ten, re­quires that calls po­lice redact the names or other identifyin­g in­for­ma­tion of the ar­rested par­ties.

That is essen­tially a se­cret ar­rest, and it con­flicts with leg­is­la­tion the Gen­eral As­sem­bly adopted in 2015 to re­quire that ar­rest records, including the name of those charged, be made pub­lic.

There’s good rea­son to re­quire that names of ar­rested par­ties be made pub­lic: It’s an es­sen­tial piece of in­for­ma­tion needed to main­tain trans­parency in the court sys­tem. We can­not have ac­count­abil­ity if we don’t have trans­parency.

Dual ar­rests are a prob­lem in Con­necti­cut, so much so that the Gen­eral As­sem­bly adopted, and then-Gov. Mal­loy signed into law, leg­is­la­tion aimed at re­duc­ing its preva­lence.

The Con­necti­cut Coali­tion Against Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence said in 2018 that 20 per­cent of fam­ily vi­o­lence cases in­volve dual ar­rests, nearly triple the na­tional av­er­age of 7 per­cent.

Although in­di­vid­ual cases may war­rant the ar­rest of mul­ti­ple par­ties, stud­ies have found that an over re­liance of dual ar­rests can ac­tu­ally dis­cour­age vic­tims of fam­ily vi­o­lence from com­ing for­ward out of fear that they, too, will be charged with a crime.

This dual ar­rest law calls for po­lice to iden­tify “dom­i­nant ag­gres­sor” and ar­rest only that per­son when pos­si­ble, but it pro­vides no sub­stan­tive restrictio­n on a po­lice of­fi­cer’s dis­cre­tion to ar­rest both par­ties.

Redact­ing the names of both par­ties be­cause they are both de­fen­dants and vic­tims would do noth­ing to re­duce the rate of dual ar­rests. In­stead, it would limit the pub­lic’s abil­ity to point to cases where such an ap­proach was ex­ces­sive or un­nec­es­sary.

It also would pre­vent the pub­lic from de­ter­min­ing if cases are ad­ju­di­cated ap­pro­pri­ately or if changes are needed in how fam­ily vi­o­lence cases are handled.

Fur­ther­more, the bill could lead to po­ten­tial abuse when po­lice of­fi­cers are mo­ti­vated to avoid dis­clo­sure. What ac­count­abil­ity would there be if po­lice of­fi­cers were to make a dual ar­rest to pro­tect a fel­low of­fi­cer or pub­lic of­fi­cial?

Ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency of gov­ern­ment ac­tiv­ity are cor­ner­stones of a healthy and vi­brant democ­racy. It’s why nu­mer­ous court rul­ings, from as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, have up­held the pub­lic’s First Amend­ment right to access court pro­ceed­ings as well as an ar­ray of records and doc­u­ments.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Free-En­ter­prise Co. v. Su­pe­rior Court of Riverdale County, Calif. cre­ated a twopronged test be­fore deny­ing the pub­lic’s access to court: Have pro­ceed­ings pre­vi­ously been pub­lic and does the par­tic­u­lar process in ques­tion ben­e­fit from pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion?

Redact­ing the names of ar­rest par­ties — in­for­ma­tion that is cur­rently pub­lic — would pre­vent the pub­lic from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the ju­di­cial process, lead­ing to the prob­lems listed above.

The leg­is­la­ture should amend this bill to en­sure the ex­emp­tion doesn’t ap­ply to ar­rested par­ties. Se­cret ar­rests are an­ti­thet­i­cal to an open and trans­par­ent ju­di­cial sys­tem.

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