Criminal Law Process
BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
"Smile! You're on the jail's camera!" Inmates at the LaCrosse, Wisconsin County Jail have now become celebrities of sorts. The jail's website shows photos of current inmates, along with other information such as their name, age, booking date and charge. The Sheriff's Department has explained that this personal information is available in order to keep the public updated on the county jail's inmate population.
Privacy Rights Lower After Arrest
The extent of your legal rights after being arrested turns on what is a "reasonable expectation of privacy." Courts will weigh an inmate's interests in their privacy against the public interest in safety when considering the legal rights of people in custody.
Other examples of diminished privacy when arrested include the release of information on arrests made to the media; the screening of all mail sent to and from inmates; and the non-private nature of medical treatment.
Some of the inmates in the LaCrosse County Jail asked that their pictures on the website be updated. Inmates who wish to press this issue would have to convince a judge that the private and public interests weigh in favor of the use of current photographs.
Identifying Information May be Confidential
Generally, criminal proceedings against someone under the age of 18 are kept confidential. They are heard in "sealed" courtrooms not open to the public. Only the attorneys, the prosecutor, the minor and minor's parents are allowed to be present.
Other types of cases which are not open to the public are termination of parental rights cases and abuse and neglect cases. In these cases, only the prosecutor, the attorneys, the parents, the minor (if the court directs), the social services agency representatives and the foster parents (if any) are allowed to be present.
Some people who've been arrested may suffer great harm or the threat of great harm if their identity, photograph or other information is released online. An attorney can be helpful to advise whether it's likely that the booking information can be kept out of the public's view. They would also be helpful in finding out whether the criminal proceedings can be "sealed."
An attorney might try to get the case transferred to a different location where you are less well known. The attorney can also request special safety precautions if you or your family are at risk of harm.
Many courthouses have a Victim/Witness program which can be helpful to your family in such a situation. That office can provide guidance on how you and your family can be protected when the release of detailed information about your arrest could pose a risk of harm.
Online Case Searches Available
Many courts across the country now have case records available for viewing online. These records can generally be searched by case number or by name of defendant. One major difference between this and the posting of jail information, as in LaCrosse County, is that inmates might not have been charged with a crime yet.
Also, the detailed information such as address and booking date are generally not available with an online case search. People wanting to learn more about the charges and the arrest can still view the court file in person at the clerk's office in the courthouse. Be prepared for a long wait if the courthouse is in a major metropolitan area, or if the court file dates back several years.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can my booking information be kept out of the public's view?
- Can my criminal proceedings be sealed?
- Can my case be transferred to a different county where I am less well known?