|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
November 30, 1999
Ms. Susan D. Reed
Dear Ms. Reed:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 130725.
The Bexar County District Attorney's Office (the "county") received a request for "the accident report and any photographs," and "the level of intoxication of [a named individual]" regarding an automobile accident on June 17, 1999 in which another individual was killed. The requestor indicates he is an attorney representing the family of the deceased individual. You have provided for our review information responsive to the request. You assert the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101, 552.103, and/or 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the information at issue.
Section 552.108 of the Government Code provides in part:
(a) Information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if:
(1) release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime;
(2) it is information that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime only in relation to an investigation that did not result in conviction or deferred adjudication; or
(3) it is information that:
(A) is prepared by an attorney representing the state in anticipation of or in the course of preparing for criminal litigation;
(B) reflects the mental impressions or legal reasoning of an attorney representing the state.
* * *
(c) This section does not except from the requirements of Section 552.021 information that is basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime.
Gov't Code § 552.108. Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code §§ 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). You indicate that the requested information concerns a case that is currently being investigated, and that a related prosecution is pending. We therefore find that you have shown that the release of the requested information would interfere with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime. See 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) (court delineates law enforcement interests that are present in active cases); Open Records Decision No. 216 (1978). Thus, we conclude that most of the requested information may be withheld under section 552.108(a)(1). We note, however, that information normally found on the front page of an offense report is generally considered public. 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); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). Thus, you must release the type of information that is considered to be front page offense report information, even if this information is not actually located on the front page of the offense report. Gov't Code § 552.108(c); see Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976) (summarizing the types of information deemed public by Houston Chronicle).
Included among the documents you seek to withhold is an accident report form that appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code § 550.064 (officer's accident report). We believe access to this information is governed by provisions outside the Public Information Act. As discussed below, and as acknowledged by you, the release of such reports is currently governed by provisions of former Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes article 6701d rather than provisions of the Transportation Code.
The Seventy-fifth Legislature, repealed 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.(1)
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 employing a peace officer who made an accident report "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. In the situation at hand, the requestor has provided the county with the two pieces of information specified by the above statute, the date of the accident and the name of two persons involved. Nevertheless, you assert that the county is not subject to the requirements of section 47(b)(1) of article 6701d of the Texas Civil Statutes because the Bexar County District Attorney's Office is neither the "Department [of Public Safety]," nor "a law enforcement agency employing a peace officer." Based on that representation, we agree that section 47(b)(1) does not apply here and find you may withhold the accident report pursuant to section 552.108 of the Government Code.
Because we make a determination under section 552.108, we do not address your additional arguments against 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.
Ref: ID# 130725
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Anthony L. Vitullo
1. 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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