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Coley v. Philadelphia District Attorney's Office

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

October 7, 2013

Charles Coley, Appellant
v.
Philadelphia District Attorney's Office

Submitted: June 21, 2013

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge [1]

Charles Coley appeals, pro se, an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court) that denied Coley's request for records under the Right-to-Know Law.[2] Coley sought access to records compiled by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office during a criminal investigation that resulted in Coley's arrest and conviction for murder. The trial court held that the requested records were exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law because, inter alia, the Criminal History Record Information Act prohibits their disclosure.[3] For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

Coley has been incarcerated at SCI-Graterford since 1974, when he was convicted of murder. On August 10, 2011, Coley submitted a written request to the District Attorney's Office for copies of documents it prepared for Coley's murder trial. Specifically, Coley requested access to the immunity petition of Andre R. Anderson and the witness statements of Aandra Wagner, Sandra Wagner, Darlene Dawes, Lorraine Johnson-Jackson and Sharon Green.

On August 16, 2011, the District Attorney's Office denied Coley's request for the stated reasons that the records were "criminal investigative records" and not public records. Coley appealed to the trial court. The trial court held that the records requested by Coley were exempt from disclosure under Section 708(b)(16) of the Right-to-Know Law, 65 P.S. §67.708(b)(16). This appeal followed.

On appeal, [4] Coley argues that the trial court erred because the documents he requested are public records. Coley concedes that the records were not public records when they were created. However, Coley contends that once a record is used at trial, the record becomes "evidence, " which is a public record.[5] The District Attorney's Office counters that there is no legal authority for Coley's argument that investigative records become public records after they are used at trial.

Section 102 of the Right-to-Know Law defines a "public record" as any record that is (1) not exempt under Section 708 of the Law; (2) not exempt under any other State or Federal law; or (3) is not protected by privilege. 65 P.S. §67.102. Section 708, which contains numerous exemptions from the definition of "public record, " states, in relevant part:

(a) Burden of proof.—
(1) The burden of proving that a record of a Commonwealth agency or local agency is exempt from public access shall be on the Commonwealth agency or local agency receiving a request by a preponderance of the evidence.
** *
(b) Exceptions.--Except as provided in subsections (c) and (d), the following are exempt from access by a requester under this act:
(16) A record of an agency relating to or resulting in a criminal ...

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