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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Ind. Courts - "Secret rejected plea agreements would hamper the public’s ability to monitor the work of elected prosecutors and trial court judges"

That is a quote from this long July 27th column on the Hoosier State Press Ass'n site, posted by Steve Key, the HSPA's executive director and general counsel, that begins:

Some trial court judges may be keeping rejected plea agreements secret.

I suggest editors have a conversation with whoever is covering the courts to determine what your circuit and superior court judges are doing in your coverage area.

Inconsistent treatment of plea bargains prior to judge acceptance arose from interpretation of I.C. 35-35-3-3(b). The code states that the content of plea agreements shall not be part of the “official record” of the case unless the judge accepts the agreement submitted by the prosecutor.

The policy argument for secrecy is that public disclosure of the rejected plea agreement could make it more difficult if potential jurors assume the defendant has admitted guilt by signing the agreement the judge rejected.

Does “official record,” mean that the plea agreement is confidential until approved? If rejected, does it remain confidential? If confidential, prosecutors would need to file the plea agreements on green paper, so court clerks know it is a confidential record, not to be shared with reporters or the public.

Fortunately, the Records Management Committee of the Indiana Supreme Court recommended that the Division of State Court Administration send trial court judges a message that plea agreements should not be filed on green paper.

Some judges who read the statute in question equate “shall not be part of the official record” as “confidential.” A message saying the plea agreement isn’t filed on green paper, may not in itself convince those judges that your reporter has the right to inspect and/or copy the plea agreement when it’s filed – before any decision by the judge to accept or reject it.

The newspaper may need to proactively seek a change in the judge’s policy.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on August 3, 2016 10:57 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts