Release of Law Enforcement Information
By law, a record held by a state, county or municipal agency located in North Dakota is open for public inspection unless those records are declared confidential or exempt by the North Dakota Century Code. The agency may withhold the requested record only after identifying to the request why the information is protected and not subject to the requirement for release.
While most records are deemed to be open, certain records carry a special distinction under NDCC 44-04-17.1. Definitions as a “confidential meeting” or “confidential record” mean all or part of a record or meeting that is either expressly declared confidential or is prohibited from being open to the public. “Exempt meeting” or “exempt record” means all or part of a record or meeting that is neither required by law to be open to the public, nor is confidential, but may be open in the discretion of the public entity. “Record” means recorded information of any kind, regardless of the physical form or characteristic by which the information is stored, recorded or reproduced, which is in the possession or custody of a public entity or its agent and which has been received or prepared for use in connection with public business or contains information relating to public business.
A public agency is required to make a record available to a request for their review.
NDCC 44-04-18. Access to public records – Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all records of a public entity are public records, open and accessible for inspection during reasonable office hours. Upon request for a copy of specific public records, any entity shall furnish the requester one copy of the public records requested.
With few exceptions a law enforcement department is required to make any record held by the department available to the public. Specific records or portions of records may be withheld in accordance with NDCC 44-04-18.7. Criminal intelligence information and criminal investigativeinformation – nondisclosure – record of information maintained. Active criminal intelligence information and active criminal investigative information are not subject to Section 44-04-18 and Section 6 of Article XI of the Constitution of North Dakota.
There is information that is part of the closed record that remains open to the public under NDCC 44-04-18.7. “Criminal intelligence and investigative information” does not include: arrestee description, including name, date of birth, address, race, sex, physical description, and occupation of arrestee; facts concerning the arrest, including the cause of arrest and the name of the arresting officer; conviction information, including the name of any person convicted of a criminal offense; disposition of all warrants, including orders signed by a judge of any court commanding a law enforcement officer to arrest a particular person; a chronological list of incidents, including initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer and a brief summary of what occurred; A crime summary, including a departmental summary of crimes reported and public calls for service by classification, nature and number; radio log, including a chronological listing of the calls dispatched; general registers, including jail booking information; arrestee photograph, if release will not adversely affect a criminal investigation.
Specific information is withheld for the purposes of protecting the victim of certain crimes under NDCC 44-04-18.7, Subsection 8. Crime scene images of a victim of a homicide or sex crime or any image of a minor victim of any crime is an exempt record as defined in Subsection 5 of Section 44-04-17.1.
Further protection is provided under NDCC 44-04-18.18. Autopsy images – confidential –exceptions. An autopsy photograph or other visual image or a video or audio recording of an autopsy is confidential.
However, a criminal justice agency may use or disclose these materials for purposes of an investigation or prosecution.
Limited portions of records relating to a crime involving domestic violence are exempt. NDCC 44-04-18.20 domestic violence record information of law enforcement exempt. The address, telephone number, or any identifying information that, if released, could reasonably be used to locate a victim or alleged victim of domestic violence contained in any record maintained by a law enforcement facility is exempt from Section 44-04-18 and may be redacted from the record before it is released.
The intent of the open records law in North Dakota is to ensure a government that is open to public review. A law enforcement agency is not allowed to arbitrarily select what records will be released based upon the sensational or perhaps graphic nature of the record. The agency must follow the specific requires set out by the North Dakota Century Code and are subject to possible civil penalties if they do not.