Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Federal Court Plea Agreements Back Online

It is now official.
In a total policy reversal, Chief Judge Federico Morneo of the Southern District court in Miami has ordered that plea agreements are public and should be made available over the Internet unless they are otherwise sealed, according to The National Law Journal.

"The sense of the Court is that the public's interest in access must prevail in this instance and that restricting access to all plea agreements is overly broad," Judge Moreno wrote in his order. "Other means are available to the prosecution and defense to insure that the public record does not contain information about cooperation agreements in those instance where the interests of safety or other considerations require different treatment."

Moreno held an en banc hearing to review a 2007 policy ordering the removal of all plea agreements from the federal courts' online filing system, PACER, in an attempt to safeguard defendants who cooperate with the state, The National Law Journal said. That older policy, which is now rescinded, was itself a response to the Justice Department's bid to get the Judicial Conference to order that plea agreements be taken offline nationwide.

Defense attorneys and First Amendment lawyers alike in the Southern District of Florida called for the policy to be overturned, The National Law Journal reports: "Most courts are coming to the view that it doesn't make sense to seal all those records," Tom Julin, a Miami-based First Amendment lawyer, told the paper. "It's very important for someone to see what deals prosecutors are making."

Nothing not to agree with about that, is there? It's not like they are putting porn online. It's just good public policy!

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