Q: Need a copy of a criminal indictment, court clerk told me it is not a matter of public record. Is this true?
I am a journalist requesting information about a criminal case which hasn't yet gone to trial. I asked questions of the Lee County Circuit Court Clerk, but was told "no comment." I asked for a copy of the indictment, and was told it is not public record. I am unfamiliar with Alabama law, but it has always been my understanding that court documents are public record.
A: Indictments are typed up in the prosecutor's office. They are not valid and are therefore confidential unless and until they are (a) signed by the foreman of the grand jury as a "true bill", (b) delivered to the Clerk of the Circuit Court, (c) served on the defendant and (d) the Clerk opens the file. Once the file is opened and a case number assigned, everything in the file, including the indictment, is matter of public record and available to the public. This is America and that's the law. We do not have secret prosecutions. So if the Clerk has opened the file you are entitled to a copy of the indictment upon request. That is not debatable. If the prosecution has not yet reached the stage at which the file has been opened, your request is premature. If the file has been set up, you are entitled by right to a copy of the indictment.
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