Open up criminal justice records in Kansas

04/28/2014 6:22 PM

04/28/2014 6:22 PM

Kansas is the only state to conceal the evidence that prosecutors use to file criminal charges or issue search warrants.

That secrecy prevents the public from fully understanding criminal justice processes. And it has forced citizens to go to great trouble and expense to learn why they were targeted, in some cases falsely.

The Legislature has a chance to correct this flaw in Kansas law before this year’s session comes to a close. There is more momentum for change than ever before.

But legislation to open up probable cause information is currently coupled with a troublesome bill that seeks to place restrictions on legal appeals in death penalty cases.

That’s a dangerous step. Some defendants convicted of murder charges, including capital crimes, have been exonerated decades after their convictions. A federal law already severely limits reviews at that level. The harsh restrictions in the Kansas bill, which limit both the time frame of appeals and the length of briefs, would increase the chances of the state executing an innocent person.

The House has approved a bill that would open up the criminal justice records. The Senate has approved the death penalty appeal restrictions. Each bill is stalled in the other chamber.

Fortunately, many House members appear reluctant to pass a life-and-death bill that they’ve not had a chance to fully debate. The best scenario would be to decouple the two provisions.

Then the Legislature, with a vote of the Senate, could bring Kansas up to date with the rest of the nation by making criminal records accessible. And lawmakers in the House could stop the misguided attempt to rush essential appeals in death penalty cases.

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