Criminal History Records Act (1986) Summary

"Criminal-History Records Information" or CHRI causes particular difficulty in the administration of the criminal justice system of every state. Because of the importance of such information to law enforcement agencies, and because law enforcement agencies tend to be numerous and local in nature, the trend in every state is to centralize recordkeeping. Information from every agency in a state becomes available to all of them. The police department in one city has available to it information that is created in other cities and towns ­information that would not be available easily and readily without a central source for that information. The centraliza­tion of such records may be the most significant development in law enforcement in our time.
 Computers have accelerated the revolution. They have made collection of such information easier and faster, and they make access to it easier. It is common for police stations and now, even, patrol cars to have ready access to kinds of CHRI. 
 At the same time, fundamental law pertaining to central­ized records and CHRI has not kept pace. The responsibilities of the collecting agency, its rule-making powers, what it collects, and who may have access to CHRI once it is collected, all are issues not well addressed in the law. Protection of individuals about whom information is stored becomes a primary policy issue. The law must act as a kind of traffic agent for CHRI, clearly authorizing access to those who need it and who should have it and cutting off access that jeopardizes indivi­dual rights, otherwise.
 The Uniform Criminal-History Records Act (UCHRA) aims to meet the critical need. It provides fundamental law to govern CHRI in any state that adopts it. 
 Section 2 of UCHRA requires a "central repository" which "shall collect and maintain, as criminal-history records, the information required to be reported to it by this [Act]." The central repository has rule-making powers to determine who will report information to it, the exact nature of the information to be reported, and how it will be reported. UCHRA can be used to establish a central repository, if one is not in existence, but can be used to clarify the authority of an existing repository system, as well (and probably will mostly be used for this purpose).
 Key to the clear concepts UCHRA seeks to establish are certain key definitions. What exactly is to be collected and maintained? A "criminal-history record" is defined in Section 1(3) as a "record…. of reportable events." "Reportable events" is defined in Section 1(5) as "occurrences concerning an individual arrested for or charged with a criminal offense." Petty and traffic offenses are excluded, as are intelligence or purely investigative records. The focus is on specific records of arrest, filing of criminal charges, sentencing and incarcer­ation. The central repository may, by rule, even more specif­ically enumerate what are "reportable events."
  UCHRA, Section 1 (4), defines "criminal law enforcement agency," subject to the reporting requirements. Such an agency must have primary criminal justice responsibilities. Any police department, sheriff's office, or correctional agency would, generally, fit the definition. These are the agencies that must report to the central repository. They report their arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations.
 Once reported and filed in the central repository, the next issue is access or disclosure. The same criminal law enforcement agencies that are required to report are the agencies in need of the records kept. In Section 5 (a) (1) of UCHRA, they have access to CHRI for their "functions as a criminal law enforcement agencies or for use in hiring or retaining…. employees." Courts and the Governor's Office have access for their particular criminal justice functions, and CHRI is subject to disclosure upon a valid subpoena. There can be interstate disclosure to any other state that has adopted UCHRA.  
 Any citizen can obtain certain kinds of CHRI under Section 6 of UCHRA. Sealed and expunged information may not be dis­closed. Conviction records may be disclosed. Other "report­able events" may be disclosed only if they have occurred within one year of the request. A citizen requesting such information must be able to identify the person about whom information is sought, very specifically. Any confusion as to the exact "record subject" (person whose records are held) means that no record will be disclosed.
 Section 7 of UCHRA governs an individual's access to his or her own records. The "central repository shall disclose" not only the records, themselves, but the record of disclosure to other persons. Section 11 provides a "record subject" with a procedure for correcting errors found in his or her own rec­ords. 
Section 9 provides for research access with the proviso that a researcher must agree to safeguard the confidentiality of individual records.
UCHRA contains basic procedures for requesting information from a central repository. It clearly designates what are prohibited disclosures. Section 13 provides sanctions for violations of UCHRA. A requester may bring an action to compel disclosure that UCHRA permits. If there is disclosure that is not authorized, there may be damages for injury and possible criminal action against anyone making such disclosure. 
UCHRA provides comprehensive, fundamental law for CHRI.