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Maryland Public Information Act Requires Disclosure of Criminal Case File To Defendant

Maryland's Court of Special Appeals has held that a criminal defendant is entitled to disclosure relating to his prosecution for murder upon request under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) once there is no pending proceeding.

Maryland prisoner Victor Blythe, Jr. requested the Harford County Police Department to turn over for his inspection the file of his homicide conviction that was finalized seven years earlier. The County Attorney's Office recited, "without any supporting detail, the statutory laundry list of possible reasons for the denial."

The Court found it was improper for the county to impose a blatant ban on all documents rather than severe part of the file that may not be entitled to disclosure. Bald assertions of exemption are not allowed, for particularized reasons must be stated upon denial.

The County then argued disclosure was shielded by under the umbrella dealing with a crime related investigation, stating the MPIA does not apply to a "criminal investigation file used to prosecute a criminal case." The Court held that despite that valid exemption, the record custodian still bore a burden 1) of exploring the feasibility of severing the record into disclosable and non-disclosable parts; and 2) of demonstrating, with particularity and not in purely conclusionary terms, precisely why the disclosure "would be contrary to the public interests."

The Court further held that a criminal defendant is a quintessential "person of interest" that has a right of disclosure far broader that other persons, unless one of the six statutory factors in SG 810-618 (f) (2) exist. The fact the defendant may be trying to prepare a post-conviction remedy is not a basis to deny disclosure. A person seeking inspection "is under no obligation whatsoever to offer a socially acceptable reason for why he seeks the information or, indeed, to offer any reason at all."

The Court held that no exemptions were shown to be valid by the County to prohibit disclosure of Blythe's criminal case file. There is no pending criminal case or other action pending. The Court ordered disclosure and for the County to pay the costs of the litigation. See: Blythe v. Maryland, 161 Md. App. 492; 870 A.2d 1246 (Md. 2005)

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Related legal case

Blythe v. Maryland