STATE OF CONNECTICUT v. ADAM GAULT, SC 18 112

Judicial District of Hartford

 

Appellate Jurisdiction; Right to Privacy; Whether Order Unsealing an Arrest Warrant Affidavit Constitutes an Appealable Final Judgment; Whether a Crime Victim has Standing to Appeal From an Unsealing Order; Whether the Unsealing Order Violated the Victim's Right to Privacy. By way of an arrest warrant application, the state charged the defendant with kidnapping in the first degree. To protect the victim's identity, the court ordered the affidavit supporting the arrest warrant sealed from public inspection for a period of two weeks pursuant to General Statutes 54-86d and 54-86e, which require that information from which the identity of a sexual assault victim may be ascertained be held confidential. The victim filed a motion to extend indefinitely the court's order sealing the affidavit. In support of her position, the victim cited 54-86e, and the right conferred upon her as a crime victim, pursuant to article first, 8, of the Connecticut constitution, as amended by articles seventeen and twenty-nine of the amendments, and commonly known as the victims' rights amendment (VRA), "to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process . . . ." The victim maintained there was no competing interest favoring disclosure that would override her right to privacy guaranteed by the VRA. The trial court rejected the victim's request and ordered that the affidavit be unsealed after it was redacted to remove information that could be used to identify the victim. The court explained that it relied in the first instance upon the presumption of full public access to court filings set forth in Practice Book 42-49A. The court, however, determined that the victim's constitutional right to be treated with fairness and respect, and her statutory right to maintain confidentiality of identifying information, overrode the public's right to view the affidavit in its entirety. In the court's view, unsealing the redacted affidavit accommodated both interests. Additionally, the court clarified that it made no finding that the victim possessed a constitutional right under the VRA to be free from unwarranted public intrusion, and that it did not determine that this right was outweighed by the public's right to access to court filings. It determined only that its order unsealing the redacted affidavit honored the victim's rights to be treated fairly and with respect, and to have her identity remain confidential. On appeal, the victim claims that the trial court's unsealing order violated her right to be free from unwarranted public intrusion, which she contends is a right guaranteed by the VRA, and her federal constitutional right to privacy. Before addressing the merits of the victim's appellate claims, the Supreme Court will address the following jurisdictional questions: (1) Does the VRA confer upon the victim (a) party status in the underlying criminal action thereby giving her standing to appeal the unsealing order; see State v. Salmon, 250 Conn. 147 (1999); or (b) an independent right to appeal the unsealing order? and (2) Does the unsealing order constitute an appealable final judgment?