In Commonwealth v. Chism, the SJC affirmed the judge’s denial of the “defendant’s motion to impound a video recording and transcript of a police interview with the defendant that was the subject of a motion to suppress and that was subsequently suppressed.” In so ruling, the Court concluded (1) “that the judge applied the correct legal standard in deciding the motion,” i.e., whether there was “good cause” to impound the video; and (2) “that, where the judge considered both the presumption of public access to judicial records and the defendant’s right to a trial decided by a fair and impartial jury, and where he subsequently forbade the duplication of the video recording and transcript, the judge did not abuse his discretion in denying the motion.” The background was as follows. The fourteen year old defendant was questioned by the police regarding the killing of a teacher at Danvers High School. During the videotaped interview in Danvers, the defendant admitted that he was the perpetrator. After he was indicted for first-degree murder and other crimes, “the defendant filed a motion to suppress the statements he made at the … police stations, claiming, among other grounds, that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive the Miranda rights and that the statements were not made voluntarily.” While the motion to suppress was pending, “the defendant filed a motion to impound ‘the contents of the videotaped interrogation … and the transcript of that interview, should either or both be entered into evidence as exhibits in the course of the hearing on the motion to suppress.’” Other parties, including the Boston Globe, intervened and opposed the motion to impound. “After two of the four days of hearings on the motion to suppress, the judge heard argument on the motion to impound…. At this time, the videotape … of the defendant’s interview at the Danvers police station had been admitted in evidence at the suppression hearing and the transcript of that interview had been marked for identification, but the recording had not been played in open court and neither the recording nor the transcript had been made publicly available.” The judge denied the motion to impound and ordered that the public could view the videotape and read a transcript of it at the Essex County Superior Courthouse, but could not make copies of those items. The judge “allowed that part of the defendant’s motion that sought to suppress his statements at the Danvers police station.” “The defendant applied for interlocutory relief from a single justice of the Appeals Court pursuant to Rule 12 of the Uniform Rules of Impoundment Procedure, seeking review of the judge’s denial of the motion to impound, claiming that the judge ‘abused his discretion and committed an error of law in concluding that “good cause” did not exist for the requested impoundment.’”
The defendnant appealed and the matter was heard by the SJC.
In its decision, the SJC noted in ruling on the defendant’s motion to impound, the judge properly “applied the good cause test,” as demonstrated by the fact that “in making both his oral and written rulings on the motion …, he began by quoting the good cause standard of the Uniform Rules on Impoundment Procedure.” The SJC described the test as follows. “We balance the competing interests of public access and the right to a fair trial by making the common-law presumption of public access rebuttable for ‘good cause shown.’ The Uniform Rules on Impoundment Procedure apply to all ‘public case records that are filed in civil and criminal proceedings. Under the rules, ‘in determining good cause, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to, (i) the nature of the parties and the controversy, (ii) the type of information and the privacy interests involved, (iii) the extent of community interest, (iv) constitutional rights, and (v) the reason(s) for the request.’” The Court noted that “a recording admitted in evidence as an exhibit at a motion to suppress hearing, and a transcript of that recording marked for identification, are judicial records,” regardless of whether that evidence is ultimately suppressed. “Having concluded that the judge did not commit legal error in considering the defendant’s motion to impound under the good cause standard applicable to presumptively public judicial records, the Court addressed the defendant’s claim that the judge abused his discretion in applying that standard.” The Court “concluded … that the judge, having subsequently ordered that the video recording could not be duplicated, did not abuse his discretion in denying the motion to impound.”