Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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DA no longer naming sex-crime victims in court documents

Policy put in place as protection, assistant district attorney says

The Clark County District Attorney’s Office no longer will use the full names of victims of sex crimes in court documents after a mother discovered a Google search gave the world access to details about how her child was sexually abused.

The DA’s Office will now plead cases using victims' initials.

Prosecutors also will work to make sure victims’ names are not accidentally released by defense attorneys by asking a judge to file motions that list victims’ names under seal, according to a memo sent on Jan. 27 to the District Attorney’s Office’s criminal division. When a judge files a motion under seal, the public does not have access to it, though the court can be petitioned to make public any documents declared to be nonpublic information.

"It is a measure to protect the average citizen from the embarrassment that anyone might be able to jump on the Internet and find," said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lalli.

Lalli said advances in technology and access made it more imperative that the DA’s Office use this tactic.

Lalli said that many times, particularly with child victims, the child or his or her parents refuse to participate in the court system because of the potential for embarrassment.

Mary Ann Price, public information officer for Clark County District Court, said she’s noticed an uptick in the public’s interest in the criminal justice system.

Each court is different in the number of hurdles it puts in place when it comes to public records, Price said.

On its website, the Nevada Supreme Court allows visitors to download many of the documents related to cases it hears. Documents in a Clark County District Court case, though, are not available online.

When someone files a request with the District Court to see a document, Price said she makes sure to remove information such as Social Security numbers or names of minors.

Although transparency is good and legally required, Price said, what must be kept in mind is if something is released that shouldn’t be, there isn’t any taking it back.

"If something gets out, it gets out," Price said. "It can get across the world in a nanosecond, and then you're dealing with it."

Price said that although the public clamor for information has ramped up, it hasn’t been an issue for the District Court.

"It's good for the public to know about (access to court records). Some people are aware of it and are able to use it to their advantage,” Price said. “The public is getting a little more savvy."

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