Juvenile Delinquency/Statutory Interpretation
August 6, 2019
- Whether the trial court erred in determining that the Office of the Attorney General’s investigatory records pertaining to a juvenile delinquency proceeding brought under RSA 169-B are subject to the confidentiality provisions contained therein.
In 2017, the Office of the Attorney General (AGO), along with various other agencies, investigated an incident involving minors. The Sullivan County Attorney filed a delinquency petition in the circuit court against one of the minors. The AGO then sought to disclose the details of its investigation due to the intense public scrutiny surrounding the investigation. The circuit court denied the AGO’s request, finding that all case records relative to delinquencies are confidential pursuant to RSA 169-B:35. Nevertheless, the circuit court determined that a limited release of information regarding the AGO’s investigation would assist in the juvenile’s rehabilitation. The AGO subsequently released a draft report containing the scope of its investigation, its factual findings, and its conclusion. The AGO then renewed its request to release approximately 400 pages of its underlying investigative records, including interviews and medical records, which was denied.
The State filed an appeal asserting, among other things, that the AGO’s investigative materials did not constitute “court” records within the meaning of RSA 169-B (which governs court proceedings involving delinquent juveniles) and, even if they did, such information was a matter of public import. Because no definition of “court” records is provided by the statute, the State asserted that when interpreted in the context of the entire statutory provision the legislature intended to maintain confidentiality only over records concerning the adjudication of the juvenile delinquency case. The State argued that because the AGO’s investigation occurred before the juvenile proceeding and were only presented to the court as part of the AGO’s motion to release its investigatory records, they were not court records or files.
The Supreme Court interpreted RSA 169-B liberally in order to effectuate its board restrictions on access to juvenile case and court records and to rehabilitate delinquent minors. In doing so, the Court held that “it is reasonable to conclude that the legislature intended that investigative records compiled by the AGO concerning a juvenile subject to the provisions of RSA chapter 169-B be confidential.” This was especially true when much of the information compiled by the AGO would likely become part of any court record and largely contained the same facts used to form the basis for the juvenile prosecution before the lower court.
Gordon J. MacDonald, attorney general (Daniel E. Will, solicitor general, on the brief and orally), for the State. Stephanie Hausman, deputy chief appellate defender, of Concord, on the brief and orally, for the juvenile. Malloy & Sullivan Lawyers Professional Corporation, of Hingham, Massachusetts (Kathleen C. Sullivan on the brief), for the Union Leader Corporation, as amicus curiae.