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12/29/97 W.L. v. W.L.

December 29, 1997

IN RE W.L., A MINOR (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
W.L., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 96--JD--554. Honorable Margaret J. Mullen, Judge, Presiding.

As Corrected December 30, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Rathje delivered the opinion of the court. Geiger, P.j., and Thomas, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rathje

The Honorable Justice RATHJE delivered the opinion of the court:

Respondent, W.L., appeals the trial court's order releasing his name and the offenses he committed to an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).

Respondent was originally charged with committing 14 counts of criminal damage to property (720 ILCS 5/21--1(1) (a) (West 1996)) and 1 count of arson (720 ILCS 5/20--1(a) (West 1996)). Respondent admitted committing two counts of criminal damage to property, was adjudicated a delinquent minor, made a ward of the court, and placed on two years' probation.

Thereafter, the State filed a petition seeking to release the case number, respondent's name, and the final disposition of the action to an ATF agent. The petition alleged that (1) the agent wanted the information because the charges involved damage to church property and the use of swastikas; (2) sections 1--7 and 1--8 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/1--7, 1--8 (West 1996)) allow the release of the information if it is to be used for an ongoing investigation; (3) the agent requested the information for statistical purposes; and (4) the information would "be used for investigation purposes, although not for any one specific investigation."

Respondent objected to the release of the information and argued that the Act did not authorize the release of the information for the use cited by the State. Respondent further argued that, if the agent wanted the information for statistical purposes, the court should not release respondent's name but rather, only the nature of the offenses and the final disposition.

After hearing argument, the trial court granted the State's motion. The trial court denied respondent's motion to reconsider, and respondent filed a timely notice of appeal.

We first address the State's argument that the party seeking to restrict access to court records bears the burden of demonstrating a compelling interest for restricting access. The State further contends that any restriction should be narrowly tailored.

After reviewing the Act, we conclude that the State's argument is patently incorrect. Even a cursory reading of the Act reveals that law enforcement and court records relating to juveniles are presumed confidential and that those records will not be released unless one of the exceptions noted in the Act is met. See 705 ILCS 405/1--7(A) (West 1996) ("Inspection and copying of law enforcement records *** that relate to a minor *** shall be restricted to the following"); 705 ILCS 405/1--7(C) (West 1996) ("The records of law enforcement officers concerning all minors *** must be maintained separate from the records of arrests and may not be open to public inspection or their contents disclosed to the public"); 705 ILCS 405/1--7(E) (West 1996) ("Law enforcement officers may not disclose the identity of any minor in releasing information to the general public as to the arrest, investigation or disposition of any case involving a minor"); 705 ILCS 405/1--8(A) (West 1996) ("Inspection and copying of juvenile court records relating to a minor who is the subject of a proceeding under this Act shall be restricted to the following"); (705 ILCS 405/1--8(C) (West 1996) ("Except as otherwise provided ***, juvenile court records shall not be made available to the general public")). Consequently, we agree with respondent that the trial court should not have ordered the release of the information unless the State provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the release falls within a statutory exception.

On appeal, the State identifies five subsections from two different sections that allegedly justify the release of the information to the ATF. First, the State argues that section 1--7 authorizes the release of respondent's law enforcement records. This section provides, in pertinent part:

"(A) Inspection and copying of law enforcement records *** that relate to a minor *** shall be restricted to the following:

(1) Any local, State, or federal law enforcement officers of any jurisdiction or agency when necessary for the discharge of their official duties during the ...


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