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Court suspends juvenile record amendments

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Amendments to a court rule that made juvenile records inaccessible to the public are being suspended by the New Mexico Supreme Court just 10 days after their implementation to allow additional time for input.

The changes would require records in juvenile cases to be sealed automatically. They went into effect Dec. 31 after being approved by the Supreme Court in November.

The Children’s Court Rules Committee, which recommended the amendments, wrote that the changes are consistent with a “trend of protecting the privacy of children who come in contact with the courts, particularly in the digital age.”

Open government advocates say the criminal justice system should be transparent and that the amendments seal documents that might be of interest to the public.

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The suspended amendments do not appear to apply to cases in which an older teen has been charged with first-degree murder, but early interpretations vary.

In an order issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court said it received no input when the amendments were first published for comment in March.

But when they took effect several days ago, “this court began to receive feedback from interested parties questioning the application of the amendments” and “indicating that they were not aware that the amendments had been published for comment and subsequently approved by this court,” the court said.

“In light of the foregoing, and the court wishing to give all interested parties another opportunity to comment before the court decides whether to withdraw, revise, or reinstate the previously approved amendments,” justices opted to suspend the amendments, effective immediately.

Comments can be submitted by mail, fax, email, or on the Supreme Court’s website, supremecourt.nmcourts.gov, where copies of the proposed changes are also available.

Greg Williams, an officer of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government board of directors, said his organization appreciates the court’s decision to accept additional input.

“The court system is intended to be public,” Williams said, “and although there are certain additional concerns that arise when juveniles are involved, those rights don’t overcome the rights of the public to know how its courts and criminal justice system are being operated.”

In a letter recommending the changes, members of the committee wrote that the existing language in the rule was ambiguous, which meant different courts were interpreting the rule in different ways.

Some courts treated juvenile files as “confidential and sealed from public inspection,” the letter said, while others would “grant unfettered access to court records upon request.”

In commentary included with the rule, the committee said the changes were intended to “establish a uniform requirement to seal all court records in delinquency proceedings automatically without motion or order of the court.”

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