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March 10, 2000

Mr. Tim Cole
District Attorney
97th Judicial District of Texas
P. O. Box 55
Montague, Texas 76251-0055

OR2000-0447

Dear Mr. Cole:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#133274.

The Archer County District Attorney's Office ("the district attorney") received a request for the police report associated with an unresolved murder investigation. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Texas Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.108(a)(1) excepts from disclosure information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime if release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime. You state that the requested information relates to a murder investigation that is over nineteen years old, but because there is no statute of limitations, the investigation is ongoing. Accordingly, we find that 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). Therefore, we conclude, excepting the information discussed below, that the district attorney may withhold the information under section 552.108(a)(1).

However, section 552.108 is inapplicable to basic information about an arrested person, an arrest, or a crime. Gov't Code 552.108(c). We believe such basic information refers to the information held to be public in Houston Chronicle Publishing 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).

We also note that the documents responsive to the request include an autopsy report that is public by statute. The Public Information Act's exceptions do not, as a general rule, apply to information made public by other statutes. Open Records Decision No. 525 (1989). Pursuant to section 27.004 of the Government Code and the common law right to inspect records of the judiciary, the inquest record, including the autopsy report, is open to public inspection and must be released to the requestor.

In addition, we note that the submitted information includes court documents. Documents filed with a court are generally a matter of public record and may not be withheld from disclosure. Gov't Code 552.022(a)(17); Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54 (Tex. 1992). Thus, unless the court has sealed the document, you must release the court record in its entirety.

With the exception of the basic front page offense and arrest report information, the autopsy report, and the documents filed with a court, you may withhold the requested information from disclosure based on section 552.108(a)(1).

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.

This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. 552.321(a).

If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. 552.3215(e).

If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. 552.321(a); Texas Dep't of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).

If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.

Sincerely,

Yen-Ha Le
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

YHL/CHS/cwt

Ref: ID# 133274

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Jessi Wilson
P. O. Box 1167
Alvarado, Texas 76009
(w/o enclosures)


 

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