Effort to seal autopsy reports of minors in Colorado draws outcry from open-records advocates

Proposed legislation that would bar the public in Colorado — on privacy grounds — from viewing autopsy reports on the deaths of minors is prompting resistance from open-records advocates who say it will make it harder to uncover mistakes in the child-protection system.

The opponents, including media representatives, point to past reporting projects that relied in part on autopsy reports to hold child-protection officials accountable for failing to protect abused children who died. They also say Senate Bill 223 could complicate efforts to shed light on other issues, such as the opioid epidemic, or fatal shootings of juveniles by police and even potential flaws in police homicide investigations.

Steven Zansberg, a lawyer who has represented The Denver Post and other media outlets in open-records litigation, said the effort to close public access to all autopsy reports for minors is an overreach. He pointed out that Colorado courts already recognize that unique and extraordinary circumstances can justify the withholding of autopsy reports. Coroners can petition a court for an order exempting release of autopsies if they believe it would be against public interest, the courts have ruled. Read more…