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Senate committee takes up bill to shield victim, witness personal information

Judge's gavel

A state Senate committee held its first hearing Thursday on a bill to reverse the effect of a Michigan Court of Appeals decision.

Ricky Dale Jack was accused of 1st degree child abuse and murder, and sought an unredacted police report that included addresses, phone numbers, and birthdates of witnesses. Dale’s attorney filed the challenge, arguing the redactions didn’t comply with court rules because the police investigation had wrapped up and Jack didn’t pose a threat because he was being held while awaiting trial.

A 2-1 appeals court majority ruled for Jack last year and held that personal, identifying information of victims and witnesses in police reports cannot be redacted unless a judge orders it.

But by then it might be too late, said Attorney General Dana Nessel, who testified in support of the legislation. She said that court decision places victims and witnesses in danger of threats and retribution from perpetrators.

“Automatically, that individual, that dangerous individual is going to get your personal information,” she said. “No one is going to want to participate in such a system.”

The legislation has already passed the state House. Republican state Representative Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) is a bill sponsor. He testified before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

“We tried to create a law or a structure here in the state of Michigan that protects victims and protects witnesses,” he said, “and if there is a serious charge we want the witness to feel open that they can show up and testify or be part of the process without fear of retribution.”

Filler said if it’s necessary, contact information could be shared with defense attorneys with penalties for breaking confidentiality.

The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee did not vote on the legislation, but could at its meeting next week.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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