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Connecticut legislature reverses state Supreme Court ruling limiting release of arrest data

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — Connecticut lawmakers have reversed a state Supreme Court ruling that limited the amount of information police must release about arrests — a decision criticized by the media and open-government advocates as shielding law enforcement from public scrutiny.

The state Senate voted 36-0 early Wednesday to give final legislative approval to the bill, which would change the state's Freedom of Information Act to require police statewide to release arrest warrant affidavits and other records that provide details and probable causes for arrests.

The House approved the bill 142-0 last Friday. It wasn't immediately clear whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will sign it. A spokesman for the governor said the final language in the legislation is being reviewed.

"This bill ensures that our criminal justice system remains open to public view," said David McGuire, legislative and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut. "Everyone benefits from the legislature's decision to restore government transparency."

The state Supreme Court ruled 7-0 last year that Connecticut's FOI law limited disclosure of arrest information to "police blotter" material including the name and address of the person arrested; the date, time and place of arrest; and the criminal charges. Justices said police also were required to release one of the following: the arrest report, incident report, news release or other similar document.

Media advocates worried the ruling would allow police to withhold mug shots, details of allegations and other information that they routinely had disclosed before the decision.

The Associated Press and other news organizations filed a legal document in the case saying a ruling in favor of the police would give law enforcement authorities a green light to selectively withhold information, and that restricting access to police reports would thwart the public's ability to examine how officers are doing their jobs.

The bill would require police to release arrest warrant applications and supporting affidavits, if an arrest is made by warrant. If an arrest isn't made with a warrant, police would have to release the official arrest or incident report, or a similar document.

If judges seal arrest warrants, police would have to release the unsealed portion, if applicable, and a report summarizing the circumstances that led to an arrest, without violating the sealing order.

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