Q&A: Criminal history and copying fees

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From the Pulaski County Journal (Winamac):

Q: I was told yesterday by a probation officer in Starke County that she could not release information about a defendant under her supervision who was arrested in Pulaski County last week on felony drug charges without a written request for information, so I faxed her a request. She then told me that she couldn’t release the information because “it’s in a court record.” I told her that my understanding was that court records are public records, and she responded, “I guess that’s a Catch 22” and still refused to release the information.

I called the Starke County clerk’s office to track down the information and was told that there was a $2 per page charge to fax court records and that it must be paid in advance. I questioned whether this was appropriate, and she told me that the state allows counties to set charges. Their office also charges $1 per page for photocopies, which she also said was allowed by state law. Unfortunately this experience with Starke County is not uncommon. Any advice on how to proceed in future dealings with them would be greatly appreciated.

A: You’ve got a couple of questions here: One concerns how to get a criminal history and the other concerns copying fees.

Probation reports are confidential; so don’t go that direction to find a criminal history. Rather, make the request to your county or city police department. They are required to make available limited criminal histories on people who have been arrested.

As to copying fees, the Starke County clerk is correct that the law allows her to charge $1 a page for copies of records filed with the courts. It is a fee that the General Assembly grandfathered in when it passed a general statute under the Access to Public Records Act limiting copying fees to 10 cents or the actual cost of making a copy, whichever is greater (25 cents if a color copy).

The county recorder’s office can also change $1 a page for copies, and police departments can charge several dollars for copies of traffic accident reports.

The fax charge is another matter. I don’t know why the office believes it is authorized to charge that amount. It certainly doesn’t reflect the cost of making a copy, so you could ask them to cite the Indiana code allowing that exorbitant fee.

The problem you have is that a public agency isn’t required to fax, email or mail you records. The Access to Public Records Act gives you the right to inspect and copy, but the agency can require you to come to them to do that inspection or pick up that copy.

The clerk may not be able to justify the $2 fee, but he or she can refuse to fax the record if you challenge the fee.

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

 

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