The Public Access Counselor (“PAC”) recently provided clarification of a difficult issue: the release of records involving juveniles. The PAC issued a binding opinion where it found that a Village did not violate the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) by withholding police reports involving both an adult arrestee and a minor arrestee in response to a FOIA request. 2023 PAC 76670. The Village cited the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (“JCA”) when it denied certain records and withheld the reports in their entirety. The JCA protects the confidentiality of juvenile law enforcement and municipal ordinance violation records. 705 ILCS 405/1-7(I).

The PAC reviewed FOIA exemptions and the JCA to determine whether the Village appropriately denied the records. Under FOIA, “all records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying. Any public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt.” 5 ILCS 140/1.2 (West 2022). One of those exemptions allows public bodies to deny requests if it results in disclosure of “information which is or was prohibited from disclosure by the Juvenile Court Act of 1987.” 5 ILCS 140/7.5(bb). The JCA restricts the disclosure of “juvenile law enforcement records” and enumerates the parties authorized to access juvenile law enforcement records. The PAC explained that the Act clearly defines what qualifies as a juvenile law enforcement record and which parties are authorized to access those records. The PAC found that the parties authorized “do not include members of the media.”

The PAC agreed with the Village that the JCA protected the police reports from release because they constituted ‘juvenile law enforcement records” and therefore prohibited disclosure of any portion of the report to an unauthorized party, no matter that the report also references an adult arrestee. Moreover, the PAC explained that the Village had released other information about the adult arrestee, including the arrest information sheet, arrest card and mugshot report. The PAC noted the reporter’s argument that public interest warranted disclosure. The PAC found that section 7.5(bb) does not consider the public interest in disclosure, unlike other FOIA provisions. 5 ILCS 140/7.5(bb). Furthermore, the JCA prohibits disclosure of juvenile law enforcement records regardless of the reasons an unauthorized party, such as a member of the media, requests them. 705 ILCS 405/1-7.

If you have questions about FOIA and your obligation, please contact your Tressler attorney.