Department Of Justice v. Reporters Committee For Freedom Of The Press

489 U.S. 749 (1989)


Congress gave the FBI authority to maintain rap sheets on criminals. A rap sheet is preserved until its subject attains the age of 80. Because of the volume of rap sheets, they are sometimes incorrect or incomplete and sometimes contain information about other persons with similar names. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that exchange rap sheet data with the FBI do so on a voluntary basis. The FBI has generally treated rap sheets as confidential information and has restricted their use to governmental purposes for the most part. Congress explicitly permitted disclosure of rap sheets to authorities responsible for regulating the banking, securities, and nuclear power industries. Forty-Seven States place substantial restrictions on the availability of criminal history summaries even though the individual events are matters of public record. CBS and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (Ps) made FOIA requests for information concerning the criminal records of four members of the Medico family. Their FOIA requests sought disclosure of arrests, indictments, acquittals, convictions, and sentences. The FBI denied the request but then supplied information on three of the members after their deaths. Ps sought the rap sheet for the fourth family member. The District Court granted the Department's motion for summary judgment and the D.C. Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.