McGrath Issues Criminal Justice Information Opinion
HELENA – In a formal opinion released Thursday, Attorney General Mike McGrath held that, if a crime victim requests confidentiality, a law enforcement agency may withhold some information related to the victim.
Specifically, the agency may withhold information including the address, telephone number or place of employment of the victim or a member of his or her family, when the victim requests confidentiality. Similarly, the agency may withhold information directly or indirectly disclosing the identity of victims of certain sex crimes.
Montana law sets forth exceptions to those prohibitions, however, including release of the crime scene location. Other exceptions to the prohibition of the release of information include if the release of the information is necessary for law enforcement purposes or is authorized by a district court or is otherwise required by law, including the Montana Constitution’s right to know and privacy provisions.
Havre City Attorney Mary Van Buskirk requested the opinion, asking if a policy of complete confidentiality for victims violates dissemination procedures found in Montana law. Van Buskirk further inquired if a law enforcement agency may withhold crime scene address information.
On the second question, McGrath held that even if a crime victim requests confidentiality, a law enforcement agency may disclose a crime scene location. The opinion held that the agency may do so even if the release of the location suggests the identity of the victim.
An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a Court overturns it or the legislature modifies the laws involved.