State justices limit investigative records rule

OLYMPIA — Washington’s Supreme Court determined Thursday that prosecutors improperly withheld documents in a sex offender case, as justices took a narrow view of a state law that allows officials to keep investigative records from the public.

The files involved in the case included a recommendation for a special sentencing program and a statement made by a victim. Thurston County prosecutors had argued that the files were investigative records and should not be disclosed to the public.

In their 6-3 decision, justices said neither of the records were part of the actual investigation into criminal activity. They said it is not enough that a prosecutor simply considered a document or even that the document may be useful in making a sentencing recommendation to the courts.

“Neither of these records is part of an investigation into criminal activity or an allegation of malfeasance,” wrote Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen in the majority opinion.

The ruling reversed a Court of Appeals decision that had determined the victim statement was exempt from disclosure but the sentencing recommendation was not.

Justice Tom Chambers wrote in dissent that the documents contained deeply personal information and that the public’s interest in the files is minimal. He called on the Legislature to establish more protections to prevent the release of sensitive information.

“I do not believe the people or the Legislature intended that the most sensitive information of victims of a crime, especially a sex crime, should be revealed to newspapers and the public, causing victims to be victimized all over again,” Chambers wrote.

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