Should cold case files be open for public review?
If a cold case has been inactive, does the public have a right to see the files to determine for themselves whether or not they think the police are doing their job?
I believe that if the victim’s family feels nothing is being done to move the case forward, then they should be the ones who ultimately decide whether or not to open the files. The crime is against society so shouldn’t society have a right to see what’s being done (or not being done) in a murder investigation?
If a case has gone unsolved for decades, it’s not like the police are going to lose a hot lead. In fact, they may even GET a few leads by releasing the information.
What do you think?
Fight over release of cold case files goes to
By GREG BLUESTEIN
Published on: 12/03/07
Lawyers tangled in the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday about a case that could force police departments to release documents in unsolved crimes, a move which authorities said would undermine their investigations.
The argument deals with the police use of the term “pending investigation” to refuse media requests for public information, a term that open records lawyers say is being abused by authorities to withhold public information.
Similar squabbles between media and police over documents play out throughout the state. The court’s decision ultimately could provide a clear answer on what information police would be required to release in unsolved crimes.
Jennifer Stone was raped and murdered in 1992 in her Athens apartment, and there has never been any arrest in the case. The Athens Banner-Herald newspaper challenged the law after it requested records of the investigation under the Open Records Act in 2005 but was rebuffed.
Police said they refused the request because the case is still being investigated, pointing to records showing that Stone’s DNA is being processed into a computer database every two weeks. The department also contends that the release of certain details could “poison” the investigation, regardless of how old the case is.
“Why should the mere passage of time – or the luck of a criminal or the skill of a criminal – weaken the state’s ability to prosecute this case?” asked Bill Berryman, the county’s attorney.
He said releasing details of the Stone investigation would be “destructive.”
“Witnesses could be intimidated, statements could change, the criminal could have knowledge he otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said.
The newspaper argued police should not be allowed to claim a case is pending if there’s no active investigation and contended that keeping the files secret prevents the public from scrutinizing the investigation. That could shield the revelation of police corruption or incompetence, attorney David Hudson said.
“How would anyone know unless someone was allowed to look into the documents?” he asked.