Cause of Death Reports Subject to FOIA

As amended by the Judiciary Committee S.10 would alter existing law to make state that with some exceptions cause of death reports resulting from the performance of an autopsy by a coroner are subject to freedom of information act requests by the public. While the original bill provided no conditions for the release of requested autopsy reports the amended version of the legislation allows a law enforcement agency to appeal the release of a report to a circuit court. The agency’s appeal to the court would have to allege the report’s release would harm the agency by “disclosing identity of informants not otherwise known, the premature release of information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action, disclosing investigatory techniques not otherwise known outside the government, or by endangering the life, health, or property of any person.” The amendment also provides for exactly what information must be contained in a cause of death report following the completion of an autopsy. The Committee’s amendment weakens the public’s powers under this proposed legislation, but the bill remains superior to the status quo.

As a reminder, the impetus for this bill was a ruling by the State Supreme Court that autopsy reports are not public records and therefore not subject to FOIA. Incidentally, that ruling resulted from a case where a coroner refused to release the autopsy of a man killed by police. These kinds of cases are precisely when autopsy reports are likely to be requested by the public and it is crucial for transparency and accountability’s sake that these records be available.

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