Kansas to join rest of country in open records vote

Published On: May 05 2014 06:13:14 PM CDT   Updated On: May 05 2014 10:19:07 PM CDT

Kansas is the only state in the nation to automatically seal search and arrest warrant affidavits. That’s about to change after a bill passed the House and Senate last week.  

The bill makes the documents, known as probable cause affidavits, public record.  They are used to justify arrests or searches. 

For example, if police want to serve a search warrant on a home they have to prove to a judge they have cause.

“I was shocked to hear they decided to open this up,” says Dan Close with the Kansas Sunshine Coalition.

A police raid on a Johnson County family’s home led to the change.  Police, with search warrant in hand, searched the home looking for drugs. No drugs were found.  The family spent $25,000 trying to figure out why police searched the home.

It turns out the search happened after the family purchased indoor gardening supplies from a hydroponics store.

“If there has been a case when someone has been wrongfully accused it will help get to the bottom of it. It's policing the police,” says Close.

While some support the move to open the records, others like defense attorney Charlie O’Hara have concerns.

“I understand why people think transparency is good, but I'm not sure who this helps,” says O’Hara.

He says affidavits often contain unfounded allegations and rumors that could only harm a defendant if made public.

“A lot of the times the summary doesn't give both sides of the story. I have concerns. I don't understand the purpose of it.”

Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican, tells Eyewitness News that the record will only be open after a request is made.  At that point the law enforcement, prosecution, and the defense will be notified.  They can ask a judge to seal the documents or delete specific information.

If signed by Governor Brownback the law will go into effect July 1.