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Leveraging Freedom of Information Act Requests in Criminal Law Cases

Posted by Steve Karimi | Apr 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

While the use of public records requests and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have traditionally been used in administrative law proceedings, it has become increasingly common for plaintiffs and criminal defense attorneys to file these requests on behalf of their clients as a means to build a case for defense.  FOIA requests for example, may be critical in cases to determine whether police departments violated the 4th amendment right against search and seizure against a particular defendant (thereby nullifying the incriminating evidence they found), or if there has been violations of police procedure in the handling of an inmate or defendant or the failure to uphold other rights such as Miranda.

The Federal Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S. Code § 552) covers all federal agency actions, such as the Dept. of Homeland Security, and the FBI's Gang task force.  Chapter 42.56 of the RCW constitutes Washington State's public request statute (state public records requests laws are also dubbed “sunshine laws”).  It covers state agency action, such as police departments.  Any member of the public may make these requests, including attorneys.  The same rules apply to criminal law cases as they apply in civil litigation cases pertaining public records.

Most recently, Ferguson, Missouri once again made national headlines last month, as the municipal clerk's office sought thousands of dollars from news organizations and members of the public before filling open-records requests in violation of state law.  City officials said they had received thousands of requests following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer last year.  Now, several media outlets including the Associated Press, have filed complaints with the Missouri attorney general claiming the city was in violation of the state's Sunshine Law for seeking down payments of $2,000 to fill the requests.

Some Things to Remember About Making a Public Records or FOIA Request

  • Nonprofit organizations and members of the press are entitled to a fee waiver under FOIA and most state sunshine laws if they can show that the information they seek is intended to educate the public on a particular matter.
  • Be specific in what you are asking for- it will expedite the process.
  • The agency is allowed to charge you the costs of making the copies, but not for making the request and the manpower involved in fulfilling it.
  • The burden is on the agency to help you succeed in attaining the records.
  • There are specific deadlines agencies must meet in fulfilling your requests, although court cases now give resource-strapped agencies much more leeway.
  • There are specific confidential documents that the agency does not have to release (ie. confidential national security information), but the burden is also on the agency to prove that the documents are exempt from disclosure. 

Greater Seattle Area Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Offices of Steve Karimi is dedicated to protecting the freedom, constitutional rights, record, and reputation of each of his clients.  As a former prosecutor for the state, he is familiar with the administrative process and the inner workings of government agencies, including police departments.  He will handle everything in your case with detail and zeal, including all discovery and Freedom of Information Act and public records requests to build your Defense.  He specializes in all misdemeanor and felony cases.  Contact Snohomish and King County criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi today.  We look forward to providing you with superior criminal defense representation.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.