COULD THE ATTORNEY GENERAL RECONCILE SEPARATE AMENDMENTS TO STATUTES RELATED TO CONFIDENTIALITY OF JUVENILE CRIMINAL RECORDS?
Case citation: Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. GA-1035 (2014).
Summary: The Texas Attorney General recently considered whether it was possible to reconcile separate amendments to statutes related to the confidentiality of juvenile criminal records. The 83rd Texas Legislature adopted three bills – Senate Bill 393, Senate Bill 394, and House Bill 528 – that amended Code of Criminal Procedure articles 44.2811 and 45.0217 and Texas Family Code § 58.00711. Those statutes address the confidentiality of records in juvenile misdemeanor cases. The main issue before the Attorney General was whether House Bill 528 irreconcilably conflicted with the two Senate Bills, and if so, whether those conflicts could be reconciled.
Ruling: The Attorney General held that Senate Bill 393, Senate Bill 394, and House Bill 528 do not irreconcilably conflict. Code of Criminal Procedure article 44.2811, as amended by Senate Bills 393 and 394, provides that records relating to “a child who is convicted of and has satisfied the judgment for or who has received a dismissal after deferral of disposition for” a non-traffic, fine-only misdemeanor offense may not be disclosed to the public. House Bill 528 amended article 44.2811 to prohibit the disclosure of records relating to a non-traffic, fine-only misdemeanor offense “that is committed by a child and that is appealed.” According to the Attorney General, complying with Senate Bill 393 and Senate Bill 394, does not violate the House Bill, and vice versa. Thus, they do not conflict.
Code of Criminal Procedure article 45.0217, applicable to the justice and municipal courts, and Family Code § 58.00711, applicable to juvenile justice courts are virtually identical. The Senate Bills 393 and 394 amend these statutes to make confidential records “relating to a child who is convicted of and has satisfied the judgment for or who has received a dismissal after deferral of disposition for” a non-traffic, fine-only misdemeanor offense. The House Bill makes confidential any records “relating to a child who is charged with, is convicted of, is found not guilty of, had a charge dismissed for, or is granted deferred disposition for” such an offense. The Attorney General concluded that, because the conditions of House Bill 528 include the conditions of the Senate Bills, the amendments do not irreconcilably conflict. Further, even though the House Bill went into effect on January 1, 2014, it does not supplant or replace the Senate Bills, which went into effect on September 1, 2013. Thus, both the House Bill and the Senate Bills are effective currently.
Finally, the Attorney General considered (1) whether the enactment of the House Bill means that all non-traffic, fine-only misdemeanor cases involving children in justice and municipal courts will need to be closed to the public, and (2) whether the dockets in such cases can be publicly posted. The Attorney General observed that the confidentiality statutes govern “records and files and information stored by electronic means or otherwise, from which a record or file could be generated.” The statutes do not make live courtroom proceedings confidential, and the Code of Criminal Procedure generally provides that proceedings and trials in all courts shall be public. Thus, a court would likely conclude that the Senate Bills and House Bill do not require that courtroom proceedings in all non-traffic, fine-only misdemeanor cases involving children be closed to the public. With respect to dockets, the Attorney General stated that they can be defined as a “formal record [of] all the proceedings and filings in a court case,” and as a “schedule of pending cases.” According to the Attorney General, a “schedule of pending cases” is not a record of proceedings subject to the confidentiality statutes. However, a docket that is a “formal record of all proceedings and filings,” is a “record” for the purposes of the confidentiality statutes and thus is protected from disclosure.