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New Wisconsin law allows greater access to juvenile records

This week Gov. Scott Walker signed seven bills intended to offer better protection for crime victims and make it easier for police to investigate suspects. At least one of the new laws removes a key criminal defense protection.

Senate Bill 173 gives police and prosecutors more access to juvenile court records. Until now, those records were kept secret to prevent juvenile offenders from being unfairly accused of crimes as an adult. The bill's proponents say the new law will make it easier for police to investigate suspects by gaining access to criminal records that were previously kept secret.

The bill is based in part on the case of an 18-year-old Milwaukee man who was convicted in January for the death of a 17-year-old girl as she walked home from school. As a 7-year-old boy, he stabbed a teacher with a pencil. At age 14, he shot his cousin in the back. The state representative of his district said the man received continued leniency because investigators didn't have access to his juvenile criminal record. Just before the girl's killing, police sent the teen home after a confrontation at school, not realizing he was on probation and had a criminal record.

Under current law, police and prosecutors need a court order to access records from the juvenile court system, and the records must be used for official duties of the person requesting them. Under the new law, however, district attorneys, child welfare agencies, non-juvenile courts and law enforcement officials have wider access to juvenile records regardless of whether they're a party to the case in question. Previous legislative attempts to increase access have failed because they were seen as too broad and allowed too much access to confidential information.

The new law means that people with a juvenile record can more easily be investigated based on crimes they committed as children, even if their criminal past is long behind them.

Source: WUWM.com, "New Law Gives Police Access to Juvenile Court Records," Erin Toner, April 10, 2012

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