Beau Biden's proposal for witness anonymity fails to gain traction
Legislation proposed by Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden that would have allowed law enforcement to keep crime victims' and witnesses' names secret collapsed last week following increasingly negative reaction from the press and other state agencies. Biden's proposal would have allowed officials to hide witnesses' identities in police and court documents; their real identities would be revealed only by a judge's order "in the interests of justice."
As Randall Chase of the Associated Press reports, Biden's proposal quickly caused a backlash. The Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association objected on the grounds that court records (including real names) were an important part of accountability in the justice system. Meanwhile, the state's public defender's office argued that "information about victims and witnesses is critical in defending people who are accused of crimes, and that a proper balance must be found between the protecting the right of victims and the rights of the accused."
The motivating force of Biden's bill, his office argued, was the fear that the increasing prevalence of court documents online would lead to harassment of victims and witnesses. A Biden spokesperson pointed to a 2002 case where a 7 year old girl who had been raped by her father was later identified by friends who had Google searched her name. The attorney general's office also pointed out that assignment of pseudonyms is routine in Delaware federal courts. Still, the failure of Biden's proposal to gain traction suggests that the state is not yet ready for an expansion of secrecy in state courts.