About Public Records Requests
It’s been said that a functioning democracy is reliant upon an informed and engaged citizenry; their acceptance of governance upon trust; and trust upon transparency and accountability. The same can certainly be said of criminal justice. Central to this trust is the public’s “right to know.” Because without transparency, accountability is inconceivable and trust dissolves.
Freedom of Information is essentially an auditing mechanism for public inspection. In this way, the public – often through the aegis of the media – can more easily identify government mismanagement and expose corruption. The United States Court of Appeals (DC Circuit) observed that the central purpose of Freedom of Information is to “open up the workings of government to public scrutiny… to give citizens access to the information on the basis of which government agencies make their decisions, thereby equipping the populace to evaluate and criticize those decisions.” *
Although not enshrined in our Constitution as is Freedom of Speech, the concept of “open government” has nevertheless become a cornerstone of our democracy. Pivotal in this development is the federal Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), which was signed into law in 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, and critically amended by Congress in 1974 to make government records more accessible to the public.
Unsurprisingly, Freedom of Information sometimes comes into conflict with an individual’s Right to Privacy (attorney-client privilege and medical records, for example), as well as other concerns including ongoing law enforcement investigations and national security. FOIA has nine exemptions.
The Massachusetts Public Records Law parallels federal law, but with some variation. Every government record in Massachusetts is presumed to be public – unless it may be withheld under a specifically stated exemption.
Additional Information and Tips
Below please find additional information and tips regarding Public Record Requests (which can be made here)
- The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office maintains records relating to criminal investigations and prosecutions.
- When submitting a Public Records Request to this Office, please be as specific as possible when describing the records you seek. The more specific you are, the more efficiently we can respond to your request. For example, if you ask for “any and all records” it will take more time (and will likely be more costly) than if you request “all police reports,” because we will be required to locate and review a higher volume of records.
- Please note that certain records or portions thereof are exempt from disclosure under the public records law, and those records will be withheld. Examples of exempt records include:
- materials pertaining to on-going investigations or prosecutions (G.L. c. 4, § 7(26)(f));
- personal identifying information (G.L. c. 4, § 7 (26)(c));
- grand jury minutes and related materials (G.L. c. 4, § 7(26)(a) & (f); Mass. R. Crim. P. 5(d));
- medical, health, and hospital records (G.L. c. 4, § 7 (26)(c));
- autopsy reports (G.L. c. 4, § 7 (26)(a) & (c); G.L. c. 38, § 2);
- attorney work product and materials protected by the attorney client privilege (G.L. c. 4 § 7 (26)(d); DaRosa v. City of New Bedford, 471 Mass. 446 (2015); Suffolk Construction Co., Inc. v. Division of Capital Asset Management, 449 Mass. 444 (2007));
- materials pertaining to juvenile delinquency cases (G.L. c. 119, § 60A);
- Criminal Offender Record Information (“CORI”) (G.L. c. 4, § 7(26)(a); G.L. c. 6, §§167A, 172);
- reports of rape, sexual assault, or domestic violence (G.L. c. 4, § 7(26)(a); G.L. c. 41, § 97D); and
- personnel files (G.L. c. 4, § 7 (26)(c)) .
For a complete listing of the exemptions to the Public Records Law, please see A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law. (A listing of exemptions begins on page 14. Please note there is also a helpful Q&A beginning on page 38.)
- In keeping with the exemptions noted above, some records will be produced in redacted form. You will receive a letter from this Office explaining the particular exemptions that apply to your request.
- In accordance with G.L. c. 66, § 10(d), you may be assessed a fee for the costs associated with the production of public records. The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office will contact you regarding any charges applicable to your request.
- Under the Massachusetts Statewide Record Retention schedule, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is only obligated to retain records for prescribed lengths of time, as delineated in the Massachusetts Statewide Records Retention Schedule.
- Please be advised that certified copies of court records are not available from the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office. You may be able to obtain such records from the clerk’s office in the applicable district court or the superior court. For a listing of judicial records that may be available from the appropriate clerk’s office, please see Guidelines on the Public’s Right of Access to Judicial Proceedings and Records.
- If you are attempting to obtain a copy of your own criminal history, please contact the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services. If you are seeking information related to the sealing or expungement of records, please see A Guide to Public Access, Sealing & Expungement of District Court Records.
- For more information regarding the Massachusetts Court System, please visit here.
* McGehee v. CIA, 1983