Court rule keeps media/public in the dark

A drunk, naked guy attempts to break into a Groton home at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in August and says he intends to sexually assault an occupant. The homeowner wakes up and confronts him. He’s arrested after a struggle with town police, charged with multiple crimes and posts $100,000 bond. He hires a lawyer and pleads not guilty. His case is pending in New London Superior Court.

This is the kind of case we think the public ought to know more about, based on the nature and seriousness of the charges: second-degree burglary, public indecency, criminal attempt to commit first-degree sexual assault, second-degree threatening and interfering with a police officer.

The police department fulfilled its obligation by providing us with basic information. They told us it appears to be an isolated incident fueled by alcohol. Ordinarily, we would turn next to the court system, where documents available in the clerk’s office would help us fill in the blanks. But in this case, because of what seems to be a flaw in the rules of criminal procedure in the Connecticut Practice Book, a police report of the incident is not available in New London Superior Court.

There is no arrest warrant on file, since the police apprehended the man on-site and had no need to apply for a warrant. The police provided a report of the so-called “speedy arrest” to the prosecutor’s office, but since the man posted bond before his initial court appearance, the police report is not included in the file that is available for public review at the clerk’s window. Had the accused been unable to post bond, a judge would have had to review the police report and make a finding that there is enough evidence, or probable cause, to hold the man on the charges. Under the practice book rules, the report would then become part of the clerk’s file.

Superior Court Judge Kevin P. McMahon, who has been hearing criminal cases for 20 years, much of them in New London, agrees there’s a “gap” when it comes to public access to police and probable cause reports.

“Somebody with money, if they move fast, gets the benefit of keeping the information private,” McMahon said.

Judges make the rules in the Practice Book, so it would be up to them to revise this rule. It’s unclear whether this is something they would support.

As the courts reporter, I would like to provide readers with more information so they can assess whether this person is a continuing risk to public safety. I would like to follow this case through the court system knowing the facts - or the alleged facts - of the case. And while I have no reason to believe the police did anything wrong in this case, the details of criminal cases help us assess their performance on an ongoing basis.

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