The Big Island Press Club, composed of Hawaii Island journalists, public relations professionals, student journalists, and friends of journalism, are one of several organizations and individuals opposing a proposal by the State Judiciary to seal court files for thousands of offenders who obtain dismissal of their criminal charges by pleading guilty or no contest.
Hawaii’s Society of Professional Journalists, the Honolulu Star Advertiser, The Hawaii Reporter, and the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center have also raised concerns.
State Senator Sam Slom also opposes the proposal.
The proposal as written: “Sealing certain records: Upon a court’s determination a defendant has complied with the terms and conditions of a deferred acceptance plea and dismissal of the charge(s), or upon presentation of evidence the arrest record underlying the charge on the case has been expunged pursuant to statute, the clerk shall seal the record.”
The Big Island Press Club was founded in 1967 with a goal of protecting the public’s right to know. The Board includes journalists from around the island. Every year the group awards scholarships to journalism students. They also monitor government organizations most especially to ensure there is openness. Most recently, on August 16, 2012, the organization wrote a letter to County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi requesting that she be more open and fair with the media, and communicate with the media so the press can keep the public informed about voting and elections issues.
Those in favor of the proposal cited the expense of keeping the records available and the stigma that hangs over somebody even if their case was settled via a plea deal, and makes it more difficult for them to create a new life.
The Big Island Press Club’s statement was submitted by President Yisa Var (Editor of Big Island Weekly) on behalf of the Board and the Club:
“The Big Island Press Club opposes the sealing of court records without a hearing for individuals who have pleaded no contest or guilty under deferral and have met the conditions of the deferral. We understand that people have the right to ask the court to have records sealed. Our opposition is to the Court making this process automatic, removing the trail of the record, as it would hinder the public’s right to know that a record has been sealed.”
The Hawaii Supreme Court will make a decision on the matter.