ST. LOUIS • Prosecutors in Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office must clearly show when they remove victim and witness information from police reports they provide to defense attorneys before trial, a judge ruled Friday.
Franklin County Circuit Judge Gael Wood, a special judge appointed to hear a civil lawsuit filed against Joyce last year by the St. Louis public defender’s office, endorsed an agreement that prosecutors disclose when they remove information from the reports. The agreement also requires defense lawyers to give Joyce at least five days’ notice before challenging her office’s redactions in court.
Still unresolved, however, is whether Joyce’s practice of omitting information from police reports violates Missouri Supreme Court rules that require prosecutors to share with the defense evidence, information and statements of witnesses to be called at trial.
Friday’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed last year by Mary Fox, who heads the St. Louis public defender’s office. Fox claimed in court filings that Joyce’s prosecutors “systematically” withheld witness and victim information without seeking protective orders, and Fox called the practice an “abuse of power.”
Joyce was unavailable for comment Friday. A spokeswoman, Susan Ryan, said Joyce was satisfied with the agreement and that her office will resurrect the old practice of redacting information using a black marker to clearly show where information was withheld. She also said prosecutors will seek protective orders to withhold witness information in some cases.
Joyce has said witnesses are made available to the defense for depositions and that withholding of personal information is necessary for their protection. She said the practice predates the Internet but has become increasingly important since sensitive information can be shared so easily on social media.
“We are trying to meet our constitutional requirement and trying to do it in a way that protects witnesses and victims,” Ryan said.
Friday’s order requires Joyce’s office to make clear when they remove information by using a black marker or computer program, not simply electronically blanking out information from reports.
Court filings say that on March 4, Fox’s office received an “altered police report” with information completely stripped from the document, potentially preventing defendants from knowing that something had been removed.
Fox said in the lawsuit that the routine practice of removing address and contact information for state witnesses denies defendants “their ability to prepare and present a defense” as well as their constitutional right to a fair trial. Fox said Friday she was happy with the agreement but declined further comment.
Another hearing in the case is set for June 22.