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January 22, 2013 8:32 am

EDITORIAL: All defendants’ names should be public

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Law shouldn’t conceal identities of people charged with sexual crimes

Unlike every other person charged with a crime in Wyoming, defendants accused of sexual crimes remain anonymous and the charges against them unknown for weeks or even months.

Current state law conceals the names of defendants facing charges for sex crimes until, and unless, a judge finds there’s enough evidence for their cases to proceed to District Court.

That rightly concerns Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, who also serves as a deputy prosecuting attorney in Park County.

Krone told The Associated Press that a defendant can be arrested and released on bond, returning to the community for months while the person’s employer, neighbors, school district and others remain oblivious to the charges.

Krone is sponsoring a bill that would allow officials to release defendants’ names as soon as the person is charged with a sex crime. That’s what happens with every other criminal charge in Wyoming.

We question why the state has carved out an exception for these charges.

Certainly, allegations of this nature can damage a person’s reputation, whether or not they are later proven guilty in court. But every person charged with a crime — from theft to driving under the influence to murder or rape — should face the same process. Why conceal the identity of one defendant, but not another?

One thing to keep in mind is that criminal charges are not allegations being brought by only an accuser. They are charges being brought on the public’s behalf by a prosecutor elected by the people and investigated by police sworn to serve the public good. An open process is intended in part to provide the public an opportunity to review and scrutinize the performance of local law enforcement.

We do believe in the importance of protecting and concealing an alleged victim’s name and identity — something the law currently requires and would continue to do under Krone’s proposed changes.

In most cases, concealing the defendant’s name does not help protect the victim. After all, if a case reaches District Court, the charges and defendant’s identity will be released. The current law just slows down the process while creating unnecessary confusion for the public.

The flawed process has played out locally in several cases over the past year.

Residents may have been confused last week to read about sexual assault charges against Jesse Speer, the man accused of kidnapping a Cody girl in October.

It may appear that the charges were “new,” but in fact, Speer was charged with the three felony counts in November. Under current state law, officials couldn’t release that information until this month, when the case proceeded to District Court.

In Park County and other parts of the state, the current law has been interpreted to mean that all circuit court-level proceedings in a sexual assault case are closed to everyone except the prosecutor, the defendant and his or her attorney. Everyone else, including the alleged victim, is barred from attending a defendant’s initial court appearances.

The law has come under fire elsewhere in Wyoming. The Wyoming Press Association and other news organizations filed a lawsuit last year challenging the closure of court proceedings for a man charged with kidnapping and sexually abusing a Glenrock girl. Bruce Moats, the attorney for the media groups, said Monday, “First Amendment law does not allow court proceedings or records to be closed to guard the accused.”

Legislators now have the opportunity to change the current process. We encourage state lawmakers to continue protecting victims’ rights, but also challenge them to consider communities’ safety and equal treatment in the state’s justice system.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link February 04, 2013 2:17 pm posted by Concerned Citizen

    What a bunch of garbage. The law is quite clear. A person; NO MATTER THE CHARGES; is INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty.

    If you have a problem with a person who is charged with a crime, being released on bail prior to their hearing/court date, and think "What if they really are guilty"; then work on getting Tort Reform so stupid law suits like suing because you're stupid and burned yourself with coffee aren't wasting time. If we had real tort reform, REAL cases would make it to court much sooner and we wouldn't have to wait 4-6-12 months.

    And sorry; but once a person is LABELED as a criminal of any kind, it's almost impossible to clear that person's name. If I was accused for a crime; had my name published publicly; then found innocent; I'd sue the pants off of the city/county/etc... for ruining any chance of my name being cleared and having a normal life.

    Sorry; but Senator Krone is wrong. You can rationalize it all you want. Innocent is INNOCENT!!! If you have enough evidence to bring someone to court, then the case needs to progress faster. Prioritize the cases so personal/criminal/injury type cases get bumped to the front of the line. Or, as I said, fix the "SYSTEM" that bogs down the court with B.S. law suits.

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