Click for home page Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
John Cornyn
image
 

April 10, 2000

Mr. Duncan R. Fox
Assistant Chief
Legal Services
Department of Public Safety
P.O. Box 4087
Austin, Texas 78773-0001

OR2000-1401

Dear Mr. Fox:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 134237.

The Texas Department of Public Safety (the "department") received a request for information concerning a specific fatal motor vehicle accident. You state that the department intends to release the peace officer's accident report and the front-page information from the offense report that pertains to the accident. However, you claim that the remainder of the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.103 and 552.108 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.108(a)(1) excepts from disclosure "[i]nformation held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime . . . if . . . release of the information would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime." Generally, a governmental body claiming an exception under section 552.108 must reasonably explain, if the information does not supply the explanation on its face, how and why the release of the requested information would interfere with law enforcement. See Gov't Code 552.108(a)(1), (b)(1), .301(b)(1); see also Ex parte Pruitt, 551 S.W.2d 706 (Tex. 1977). You explain that one of the drivers involved in the accident has been charged with felony DWI and that this criminal case remains pending in Denton County. Moreover, you state that you have contacted the Denton County District Attorney's Office, and have learned that the District Attorney objects to release of the requested information pending the outcome of the trial. Consequently, we find that release of the requested information would interfere with a pending criminal case. Therefore, the requested information is subject to section 552.108(a)(1).

We note, however, that information normally found on the front page of an offense report is generally considered public. See generally Gov't Code 552.108(c); Houston Chronicle Publ'g Co. v. City of Houston, 531 S.W.2d 177 (Tex. Civ. pp.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1975), writ ref'd n.r.e. per curiam, 536 S.W.2d 559 (Tex. 1976); Open Records Decision No. 127 (1976). Thus, in regard to the responsive offense report, the department must release the type of information that is considered to be front page offense report information, even if this information is not actually located on the front page of the reports. Although section 552.108(a)(1) authorizes the department to withhold the remaining information in the reports from disclosure, you may choose to release all or part of the reports that is not otherwise confidential by law. See Gov't Code 552.007.(1)

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.

This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. 552.321(a).

If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. 552.3215(e).

If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).

If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.

Sincerely,

E. Joanna Fitzgerald
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

EJF\nc

Ref: ID#134237

Encl: Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Bennye Rice
Rice Accident Investigation Consultants
1004 Craig Drive
Mesquite, Texas 75181
(w/o enclosures)


 

Footnotes

1. Because section 552.108 is dispositive of this matter we do not address your argument regarding section 552.103 except to note that section 552.103 also does not apply to basic, "front-page" information. See Open Records Decision No. 362 at 2 (1983) (finding that even where litigation is reasonably anticipated, basic factual information "has long been treated as routinely available").
 

POST OFFICE BOX 12548, AUSTIN, TEXAS 78711-2548 TEL: (512) 463-2100 WEB: WWW.OAG.STATE.TX.US
An Equal Employment Opportunity Employer


Home | ORLs