|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
January 8, 1999
Captain Robert Taylor
Dear Captain Taylor:
You have asked whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 120950.
The Amarillo Police Department (the "department") received a request for all reports in which three named individuals are suspects, witnesses, or complainants. The request also specifically seeks records concerning an accident that occurred on March 15, 1996. You seek to withhold all responsive records as confidential by common-law privacy. You also assert that information is protected from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code and by section 58.007 of the Family Code, in conjunction with section 552.101 of the Government Code.
Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." Criminal history information must be withheld from required public disclosure under common-law privacy if it meets the test set out by the Texas Supreme Court in Industrial Foundation v. Texas Industrial Accident Board, 540 S.W.2d 668, 685 (Tex. 1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977). See also Gov't Code 411.084 (prohibiting release of criminal history information obtained from Department of Public Safety). Under the Industrial Found. case, information may be withheld on common-law privacy grounds only if it is highly intimate or embarrassing and is of no legitimate concern to the public.
The privacy interest in criminal history record information has been recognized by federal regulations which limit access to criminal history record information which states obtain from the federal government or other states. See 28 C.F.R. § 20; see also United States Dep't of Justice v. Reporters Comm. for Freedom of the Press, 489 U.S. 749 (1989) (finding criminal history information protected from disclosure under Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act of 1974 ("Privacy Act"), 5 U.S.C. § 552a). Recognition of this privacy interest has been echoed in open records decisions issued by this office. See Open Records Decision Nos. 616 (1993), 565 (1990), 216 (1978), 183 (1978), 144 (1976), 127 (1976).(1)
In Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976) (hereinafter "Houston Chronicle"), the court addressed the availability under the Open Records Act of certain broad categories of documents in the possession of a city police department, including offense reports, police blotters, "show-up" sheets, arrest sheets, and "Personal History and Arrest Records." The court held that some of this information was available to the public under the Open Records Act, including the police blotters, "show-up" sheets, and offense reports. However, the court also held that "Personal History and Arrest Records" were excepted from required public disclosure. These records primarily contained criminal histories, such as information regarding previous arrests and other data relating to suspected crimes, including the offenses, times of arrest, booking numbers, locations, and arresting officers. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co., 531 S.W.2d at 179. Such a criminal history record is generally referred to as a "rap sheet." The court held that release of these documents would constitute an unwarranted invasion of an arrestee's privacy interests. Id. at 188. The department may not provide any information in response to the request for all reports in which the named individuals might be suspects or offenders, as this information provides the compiled criminal history of the named individuals.
You also provided information that is not criminal history information on the named individuals, but that is responsive to the request for records. You submitted one report that you contend is protected from disclosure under section 552.108(a)(2) of the Government Code. Section 552.108(a)(2) excepts from disclosure information concerning an investigation that concluded in a result other than conviction or deferred adjudication. You state that this investigation concluded in a result other than conviction or deferred adjudication. We agree that you have shown the applicability of section 552.108(a)(2) to most of the information in the report. However, section 552.108(c) provides that the basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime may not be withheld from disclosure. Basic information is the type of information that is generally included on the front page of an offense report, including a detailed description of the incident. Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177, 186-87 (Tex. Civ. App.--Houston [15th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). Thus, you must release the basic information concerning this incident, but may withhold the remaining portion of the report.
You also submitted two reports that you contend must be withheld from disclosure pursuant to section 58.007(c) of the Family Code, in conjunction with section 552.101 of the Government Code. Section 58.007(c) of the Family Code reads in pertinent part as follows:
Except as provided by Subsection (d), law enforcement records and files concerning a child may not be disclosed to the public . . . .
Subsection (d), which concerns the transfer of records in certain circumstances, is apparently inapplicable here. Because the reports at issue concern juveniles, section 58.007(c) makes both of the reports confidential in their entirety. See also Fam. Code § 51.02(2) (defining "child"). The two reports you have marked as protected juvenile records must be withheld from disclosure.
The requestor provided the date of a traffic accident but did not provide other information such as the names of the drivers of the cars or the location of the accident. You assert that the department may not provide accident information to the requestor based on the information provided. We agree.
The Seventy-fifth Legislature repealed V.T.C.S. article 6701d, and amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code concerning the disclosure of accident report information. Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S. ch. 1187, 1997 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 4575 (Vernon), (to be codified at Transp. Code § 550.065). However, a Travis County district court has issued a temporary injunction enjoining the enforcement of the amendment to section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. Texas Daily Newspaper Ass'n, v. Morales, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., Oct. 24, 1997) (second amended agreed temporary injunction). A temporary injunction preserves the status quo until the final hearing of a case on its merits. Janus Films, Inc. v. City of Fort Worth, 358 S.W.2d 589 (1962). The supreme court has defined the status quo as "the last, actual peaceable, non-contested status that preceded the pending controversy." Texas v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. 526 S.W.2d 526, 528 (Tex. 1975). The status quo of accident report information prior to the enactment of S.B. 1069 is governed by section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(2)
Section 47(b)(1) provides that:
The Department or a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer who made an accident report is required to release a copy of the report on request to:
. . . .
(D) a person who provides the Department or the law enforcement agency with two or more of the following:
(i) the date of the accident;
(ii) the name of any person involved in the accident; or
(iii) the specific location of the accident
V.T.C.S. art. 6701d, § 47(b)(1) (emphasis added).
Under this provision, a law enforcement agency must protect accident reports from disclosure but "is required to release" a copy of an accident report to a person who provides the law enforcement agency with two or more pieces of information specified by the statute. Id. As the requestor has not provided the department with two or more of the items of information specified by the statute, the accident report must be withheld from disclosure.
We are resolving this matter with an informal letter ruling rather than with a published open records decision. This ruling is limited to the particular records at issue under the facts presented to us in this request and should not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records. If you have questions about this ruling, please contact our office.
Yours very truly,
Ruth H. Soucy
Ref: ID# 120950
Enclosures: Submitted documents
cc: Ms. Rhonda Brashears
1. The Code of Federal Regulations defines "criminal history information" as "information collected by criminal justice agencies on individuals consisting of identifiable descriptions and notations of arrests, detentions, indictments, informations, or other formal criminal charges, and any disposition arising therefrom, sentencing, correctional supervision, and release." 28 C.F.R. § 20.3(b). The information at issue here fits this description.
2. Although the Seventy-fourth Legislature repealed and codified article 6701d as part of the
Transportation Code, the legislature did not intend a substantive change of the law but merely a
recodification of existing law. Act of May 1, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, §§ 24, 25 1995 Tex.
Sess. Law Serv. 1025, 1870-71. Furthermore, the Seventy-fourth Legislature, without reference to
the repeal and codification of V.T.C.S. article 6701d, amended section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.,
relating to the disclosure of accident reports. Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995
Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 4413, 4414. Because the repeal of a statute by a code does not affect an
amendment of the statute by the same legislature which enacted the code, the amendment is preserved
and given effect as part of the code provision. Gov't Code § 311.031(c). Thus, the amendment of
section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. is the existing law regarding the availability of accident report
information, and may be found following section 550.065 of the Transportation Code. See also Act
of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Sess. Law Serv. 4413, 4414.
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