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Jackson County Prosecutor Opposes Disclosing Witnesses' Personal Information

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Elle Moxley
/
KCUR 89.3
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announces charges in an April homicide. She says fewer witnesses will come forward if she has to give defense attorneys their home address.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker doesn’t think victims and first responders should lose their right to privacy just because they’re witnesses in criminal proceedings.

Baker filed a friend-of-the-court brief Tuesday firing back at a St. Louis judge who in several cases has ordered the City Circuit Attorney there to disclose the home addresses of crime victims and law enforcement officers scheduled to testify in court.

“We're not trying to hide them,” Baker says. “But what we are trying to do is balance their privacy right against our system of justice.”

Baker says Circuit Judge Michael Mullen’s interpretation of a Missouri rule is “unduly harsh.” State law requires prosecutors to provide defense counsel with the last known address of anyone called to testify.

For law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency room personnel, Baker says her office has always interpreted that rule to mean the address where they work.

“We may have to give up their personal residences, their home addresses,” Baker says. “It seems like a step much too far.”

According to Baker’s brief, “(Mullen) has abused his discretion in ordering the State to provide the defendant with unredacted police reports and to disclose the personal information of victims and witnesses. ... In particular, respondent has clearly abused his discretion in failing to adequately safeguard the constitutional right to privacy of the victims and witnesses.”

One of the cases consolidated in the appeal involved receiving stolen property. Another involved second degree burglary.

Baker says after she took her concerns to the Kansas City police and fire departments, both chiefs agreed to sign the amicus brief.

So did the Rose Brooks Center and the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, organizations whose work puts them in regular contact with victims of violent crime.

“They have good reason to be scared and fearful,” Baker says. “This will hamper our ability to protect victims and to get people to cooperate, to come forward seeking justice.”

The Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis will hear arguments in the case in mid-August.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.