Court’s decision to seal murder case file is wrong
Public information is a vital part of our freedom.The need to know and right to know should not be confused. As a newspaper, we publish information on a daily basis, and much of the time that information comes from government, police and courts. Not everyone needs to know some of this information; however, it’s everyone’s right to be able to acquire public information if they feel the need to know.We strongly disagree with the recent decision by the 9th Judicial District Courts, District Attorney and the Public Defender’s Office to seal the court records of the murder case pending against Jesus Hernandez de Jesus.When a murder occurs in any town, big or small, residents have a right to know the details of the case. As a member of the media, it’s our job to report those details. It’s our job to keep the public informed. We can acquire information by sitting in on the court proceedings but that’s not providing us with all the information. We need access to the court files so we can provide information to the public.That decision is contrary to what the First Amendment stands for – plain and simple.According to the court transcript, District Attorney Martin Beeson, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Cheney and Tina Fang from the Public Defender’s Office made a joint motion that the entire file be sealed, citing pre-trial publicity.Don’t confuse this with a media issue. This is a public access issue. If a concerned citizen wanted to see the details of the file, they are blocked, just like the media.One of our main concerns is that it was requested and the judge agreed to seal the entire file as opposed to evaluating individual documents. To seal an entire file is inappropriate without evaluating each document on its own individual contents.In the court transcript, Fang even made reference to wanting the case file sealed over the possibility of filing of “additional affidavits – hypothetically.” To request to have a file sealed over something that is hypothetical is absolutely ridiculous.Sealing the file is a rather drastic move.There are much less radical options, even looking at a change of venue if the concerns are that heightened.We feel that a murder case and the facts concerning the investigation should be available to the public. There’s no reason we can think of that sealing a file in its entirety is in the best interest of the public.This must be looked at as a public document issue. What if a neighbor, a family member, a friend wanted to get information from this file? The public has a right to view this file. That’s the right that the First Amendment gives us.Anytime a court file is sealed, it’s troubling and something that brings up other questions. Will this become standard procedure for the court? Will the DA’s Office and Public Defender’s Office use this tactic to have files sealed on a regular basis?This case and possible future repercussions are cause for great concern and the reason why we feel we must make an issue of this decision.This is a public information issue. The case file in the Jesus Hernandez de Jesus murder case should be unsealed.
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