|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
July 17, 2000
Ms. Pamela Smith
Dear Ms. Smith:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 137458.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (the "department") received a request for numerous documents pertaining to a particular accident. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exception you claim and reviewed the submitted information.
Initially, we note that the submitted documents contain a traffic accident report that appears to have been completed pursuant to chapter 550 of the Transportation Code. See Transp. Code § 550.064 (officer's accident report). The Seventy-fourth Legislature amended section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. to provide for release of accident reports to a person who provides two of the following three pieces of information: (1) date of the accident; (2) name of any person involved in the accident; and (3) specific location of the accident. See Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413. Further, the Seventy-fourth Legislature also repealed and codified article 6701d as section 550.065 of the Transportation Code without substantive change. See Act of May 1, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, §§ 24, 25, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 1025, 1870-71.(1) In section 13 of Senate Bill 1069, the Seventy-fifth Legislature amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code to provide for release of accident reports under specific circumstances. Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, § 13, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4582-83 (current version at Transp. Code § 550.065). The Seventy-fifth Legislature also repealed section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. in section 16 of Senate Bill 1069. Id. § 16(b), 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4583.
However, a Travis County district court has issued a permanent injunction enjoining the enforcement of the amendment to section 550.065 of the Transportation Code enacted by section 13 of Senate Bill 1069. Texas Daily Newspaper Ass'n v. Cornyn, No. 97-08930 (345th Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex., April 26, 2000). The district court has declared that the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill1069 now governs and remains unaffected by the permanent injunction. We have determined that the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1069 was section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S.(2)
Section 47(b)(1) of article 6701d 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). See Act of May 27, 1995, 74th Leg., R.S., ch. 894, § 1, 1995 Tex. Gen. Laws 4413.(3) 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 department with the required information. Thus, the department is required to release the information under section 47(b)(1) of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. We have marked the accident report to be released.
Next, we note that the submitted documents contain a search warrant and accompanying affidavits. The affidavits were made to support a search warrant. Therefore, the affidavits are public by statute if the warrant has been executed. See Code Crim. Proc. art. 18.01(b). Furthermore, these documents were signed by a magistrate and appear to be court records. Therefore, we find that these documents are not excepted from public disclosure. Gov't Code § 552.022(a)(17); see also Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Walker, 834 S.W.2d 54, 57 (Tex. 1992) (if documents are part of public record they cannot be withheld under section 552.108). Accordingly, the department may not withhold the executed search warrant affidavit from required public disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code.
We have marked these documents to be released.
We also note that the submitted documents contain an autopsy report. Section 11 of article 49.25 of the Code of Criminal Procedure requires that autopsy reports be made available to the public. See Open Records Decision No. 525 (1989). Section 11 provides that
[t]he records [of an autopsy] are subject to required public disclosure in accordance with Chapter 552, Government Code, except that a photograph or x-ray of a body taken during an autopsy is excepted from required public disclosure in accordance with Chapter 552, Government Code, but is subject to disclosure:
(1) under subpoena or authority of other law; or
(2) if the photograph or x-ray is of the body of a person who died while in the custody of law enforcement.
Code Crim. Proc. art. 49.25, § 11. The department must release the autopsy report to the requestor. We have marked the autopsy report to be released.
Finally, the department contends that the requested information is excepted from public disclosure under section 552.108 because the investigation into the accident is ongoing. Section 552.108(a)(1) of the Government Code states that information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime is excepted from required public disclosure "if release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." Gov't Code § 552.108(a)(1). You inform us that the requested information pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation. We therefore believe that the release of the information "would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." Id. Therefore, the department may withhold the remainder of the requested documents 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 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). Thus, with the exception of the basic front page offense and arrest information, you may withhold the requested information from disclosure based on section 552.108(a)(1). We note that you have the discretion to release all or part of the remaining information that is not otherwise confidential by law. Gov't Code § 552.007.
In summary, the department must release the accident report, the search warrants and the affidavits in support of the search warrants, and the autopsy report. The department may withhold the remainder of the requested documents under section 552.108(a)(1), but must release basic front page information in accordance with section 552.108(c).
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 Department 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.
Noelle C. Letteri
Ref: ID# 137458
Encl. Submitted documents
cc: Mr. Joe Thornhill
1. 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 of section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. is preserved and given effect as part of the code provision. See Gov't Code § 311.031(c). In 1997, the Seventy-fifth Legislature enacted Senate Bill 898 and amended section 550.065 of the Transportation Code to conform to section 47 of article 6701d as enacted by the Seventy-fourth Legislature and repealed article 6701d. See Act of May 8, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, § 30.125, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 327, 648-49.
2. Although the Seventy-fifth Legislature enacted Senate Bill 898 prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1069, Senate Bill 898 was not effective until September 1, 1997. See Act of May 8, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 165, § 33.01, 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 327, 712. Further, Senate Bill 1069 expressly provides that to the extent of any conflict, Senate Bill 1069 prevails over another Act of the Seventy-fifth Legislature. See Act of May 29, 1997, 75th Leg., R.S., ch. 1187, § 16(c), 1997 Tex. Gen. Laws 4575, 4583. If irreconcilable amendments are enacted at the same session of the legislature, the latest in date prevails. Gov't Code § 311.025(b). Because Senate Bill 898 was never effective and later amendments prevail, we conclude that section 47 of article 6701d, V.T.C.S. was the law in effect prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1069 regarding the availability of accident report information rather than section 550.065 as amended by Senate Bill 898.
3. We note that the text of amended section 47 of article 6701d is not found in Vernon's Revised Civil Statutes or in the Transportation Code. However, section 47 of article 6701d is published in the 1995 General and Special Laws of the 1995 Legislature at chapter 894, section 1.
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