December 22, 2014

Probable cause affidavits should be public records

It’s true. The overwhelming majority of bills passing through the halls of the Kansas Legislature are worthy of a Big Top. From legislation to ban surrogacy to a bill that would allow teachers and caregivers to spank a child up to 10 times hard enough to leave redness and bruising, it appears legislators should go ahead a dress the part by donning clown shoes and big red noses.
However, peel back enough layers and eventually Kansans will find bills worthy of support and praise.
Key among the precious few worthy bills is House Bill 2555. The legislation would reverse a 35-year-old law that made probable cause affidavits closed records.
Law enforcement officers use probable cause affidavits to arrest suspects and to conduct search warrants. The affidavits include why police believe a crime had been committed or the evidence used to secure a search warrant.
And for 35 years, the documents have been closed to the public eye in Kansas.
In federal courts and the majority of state courts, the records are open, but not in the Sunflower State.
Journalists have a special interest in putting records in the hands of the public, but journalists and their readers aren’t the only citizens who would be served by more transparency in probable cause affidavits.
Take for example, Robert and Adlynn Harte.
The couple spent countless hours and dollars in attorney’s fees to determine why a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office tactical team raided their Leawood home in search of marijuana.
They didn’t find any. Instead, the deputies found hydroponics being used to grow vegetables in the basement of the couple’s suburban home.
House bill 2555 would have allowed the Hartes to determine law enforcement’s reasoning for the raid was their visit to a hydroponics store and testing deputies did on leaves they found in the Hartes’ trash.
Those who are arrested and those who have their property searched should know why, and the public in general should be allowed to know what logic law enforcement is using when it invades the privacy of its citizens.
It appears the law enforcement’s opposition to this bill is based on a desire to hide its mistakes from the people. That’s the whole point of open records in the first place. It’s an extra set of eyes to make sure services citizens fund through tax dollars are being done correctly.
House bill 2555 is a no-brainer. We urge legislators to support it.

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