House Bill 178 passed committee Jan. 21 on a 5-4 vote. The bill will remove the requirement that the accused name in sexual assaults not be released by public employees. The requirement has resulted in complete court cases – both files and hearings – that are closed to the public. More and more courts are closing these cases completely because of the requirements. Because the public receives no info on these cases, a predator could be released from jail after a bond hearing in circuit court and their next-door neighbor not know anything about it. No one state requires confidentiality of the accused name. Public courts also protect the accused by keeping the courts honest. History has taught us that secret courts lead to abuse. We currently have a lawsuit against the complete closure of a case. First Amendment law does not allow court proceedings or records to be closed to guard the accused. Passage of this bill would likely make this suit moot.
Arguments against include sex crimes are easy to allege and especially staining even if proven wrong. This assumes that victims (usually women) are more prone to make false charges than another victims, which prosecutors tell us is not true. We don't keep those accused of murder confidential, and being accused of murder falsely can also ruin your reputation. I would submit that people do understand that someone can make false accusations, and there are innocent people charged. This very discussion highlights that people know that false accusations can be made.
Hiding the accused name would not be so bad if it was not leading to secret court files and cases. That is what is happening.
I urge everyone to contact their representatives about HB 178. It is truly you that the legislators listen to.
Bruce T. Moats,
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