The case stemmed from the efforts of our client, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, to obtain police and prosecution records concerning a highly publicized rape trial in which the defendant, then a Dartmouth College student, was acquitted and later had his criminal record annulled. In a unanimous ruling on August 23, the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected the student’s argument that when a criminal record is annulled, police and prosecution records are automatically exempt from disclosure under the state’s Right-to-Know law. The Court’s ruling helps pave the way for Liz Canner, who is producing a film on campus sexual assaults called “Silent U.,” to obtain the information necessary to help understand and explain why the rape prosecution proceeded as it did.
PLT Media Group chair Rob Bertsche had argued to the Court on March 3 (video here) that the annulment law’s “legal fiction,” which allows a criminal defendant to deny ever having been charged, should not be construed to deny journalists access to public records that would otherwise be available. The state Supreme Court agreed: “The public has a substantial interest in understanding how investigations of alleged crimes are conducted, and how prosecutors exercise their discretion when deciding whether to prosecute, reach a plea agreement, or try cases.”
As Rob told the Valley News newspaper, “The performance of police and prosecutors, and the effectiveness of the judicial system in dealing with issues of sexual assault, are issues that are being discussed in communities all across the country. Today’s decision helps to ensure that those conversations can continue. That’s not just a victory for Liz Canner, it’s a victory for all Americans.”