BILL WOULD PERMIT COURTS TO FALSIFY COURT RECORDS

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press – Arlington,VA,USA


Feb. 16, 2007  ·   Some prosecutors in Florida are pushing the state Legislature to pass a law that would permit state prosecutors to alter or falsify court records if a judge approves.

Under the proposed bill, the court would be able to authorize or approve an application by law enforcement officers and state attorneys to alter, withdraw or falsify records for undercover law enforcement purposes in active cases and investigations.

Such authorizations would be able to last for up to 180 days. Multiple 30-day extensions of an order could be granted.

In November, The Miami Herald revealed that some judges and prosecutors in Miami-Dade County altered dockets and records in some cases. For example, court records were altered to conceal the felony convictions of informants.

The Florida Public Defenders Association and open government advocates argue that such practices should be banned.

Under current Florida law, it is illegal to alter or falsify court records. Violators can be sent to prison for up to a year.

“The fundamental problem is that it so goes against our notion of the way our justice system ought to work,” Randall Marshall, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, told the Herald. “How would we ever be able to trust anything in the judicial record knowing that something could be intentionally falsified with a judicial seal of approval?”

Proponents of the secrecy, such as state prosecutors, argue that sometimes it is necessary in order to protect informants and investigations.

The push for the legislation is just one aspect of a greater controversy in Florida concerning secrecy in court records.

Last summer, the Herald reported that hundreds of civil and criminal cases in Florida were hidden on secret dockets.

As a result of the Herald‘s reports, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis asked a committee of the Florida Bar to examine current practices and recommend rule changes by March 1. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on secret and false dockets March 5.

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