Q&A: Search warrant withheld


From The Leader (Knox):

Q: I was just at our county courthouse because I heard paperwork had been filed on a teacher being criminally charged for improper acts with a minor.

I was informed all they had was the paperwork for a search warrant that was executed on the teacher. When I asked to see it one of the clerks said she could not let me see it because the suspect’s personal information is on it.

Do I have the right to see the warrant?  

A: Unless a judge sealed the search warrant, it’s a record that you should be able to inspect and copy.

If there is information on the search warrant that is required to be kept confidential by law – for example, Social Security numbers – the clerk would be right to make a copy of the warrant and redact any other information the law requires be kept confidential and then give you the redacted document.

I don’t know what other “personal information” there is that the clerk’s office would have to keep confidential. You’ll need to follow up with the clerk on that.

The burden is on the public agency to separate disclosable from nondisclosable information, then make the record available for inspection and copying.

Looks like you’ll need to visit the clerk again. Maybe by then the search warrant will have been served and there may be more information in the file.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.