Attorney General: Honorable William J. Lavery, Chief Court Administrator, Formal Opinion 2006-023, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Honorable William J. Lavery, Chief Court Administrator, Formal Opinion 2006-023, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

October 24, 2006

Honorable William J. Lavery
Chief Court Administrator
Judicial Branch
100 Washington St.
PO Box 150474
Hartford, CT 06115

Dear Judge Lavery:

           

           You ask whether the United States Marshals Service (“the Marshals Service”) may access the Judicial Branch’s Paperless Rearrest Warrant Notification (“PRAWN”) database, which contains records of all rearrest warrants issued by the Superior Court.  According to the Marshals Service, access to the PRAWN database would assist it in preventing the release into the community of prisoners wanted on rearrest warrants.  I conclude that nothing in the law prohibits the Judicial Branch from making the PRAWN database available to the Marshals Service.

 

          The PRAWN database was created pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-2a(e), which provides in relevant part that:

         

          Whenever a [rearrest] warrant is issued…the court, judge or judge trial referee may cause such warrant to be entered into a central computer system.  Existence of the warrant in the computer system shall constitute prima facie evidence of the issuance of the warrant.  Any person named in the warrant may be arrested based on the existence of the warrant in the computer system and shall, upon any such arrest, be given a copy of the warrant.

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-2a(e). 

 

          You ask whether Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142i(c), which limits direct computer access to certain “criminal history record information” to authorized officers or employees of “criminal justice agencies,” would prevent access by the Marshals Service to the PRAWN database.  Your particular question is whether only State of Connecticut criminal law agencies, such as the Connecticut State Police or the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, qualify as “criminal justice agencies” entitled to receive direct computer access to criminal history records information.1  As explained below, no such restriction exists in the law, and the Marshals Service clearly meets the definition of a “criminal justice agency” qualified to receive direct computer access to criminal history record information.

 

          For purposes of the computer records access provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142i(c), the phrase “criminal justice agency” is broadly defined as:

 

          any court with criminal jurisdiction, the Department of Motor Vehicles or any other governmental agency created by statute which is authorized by law and engages, in fact, as its principal function in activities constituting the administration of criminal justice, including, but not limited to, organized municipal police departments, the Division of State Police, the Department of Correction, the Court Support Services Division, the Office of Policy and Management, the state's attorneys, assistant state's attorneys and     deputy assistant state's attorneys, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, the Chief Medical  Examiner and the Office of the Victim Advocate. ‘Criminal justice agency’ includes any component of a public, noncriminal justice agency if such component is created by statute and is authorized by law and, in fact, engages in activities constituting the administration of criminal justice as its principal function.

                                                                     

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142g(b)(emphasis added). 

 

          This definition does not require that a “criminal justice agency” be an agency of the State of Connecticut.  Moreover, while the definition requires that such an agency be “created by statute,” it does not specify that it be created by state statute.  The term “statute” as  used in § 54-142g(b) is not specifically defined, but has elsewhere been generally defined as a “formal written enactment of a legislative body, whether federal, state, city or county.”  Black’s Law Dictionary (6th  Ed.) at 1410 (emphasis added).   

 

          The Marshals Service clearly qualifies as a “governmental agency created by statute which is authorized by law and engages, in fact, as its principal function in activities constituting the administration of criminal justice[.]” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142g(b).  The Marshals Service was created by the Judiciary Act of Sept. 24, 1789, which specifically provided that law enforcement was to be the Marshals Service’s principal function. See Statutes at Large, Session 1, Chap. XX, Section 27, Sept. 24, 1789 (“An Act to establish the Judicial Courts of the United States”)(“a marshal shall be appointed in and for each district for a term of four years…whose duty it shall be to … execute throughout the district, all lawful precepts directed to him, and issued under the authority of the United States [.]”).  The Marshals Service continues to exercise statutory criminal law enforcement powers, including the powers to carry firearms, make arrests and execute orders of the United States and its courts.  See 28 U.S.C. § 566.   In fact, officials of the Marshals Service, “in executing the laws of the United States within a State, may exercise the same powers which a sheriff of the State may exercise in executing the laws thereof.”  28 U.S.C. § 564.

 

          Moreover, the use of the phrase “including, but not limited to” in the definition of “criminal justice agency” indicates that the legislature did not intend to limit records access to state criminal justice agencies.  See, e.g., BRT Gen. Corp. v. Water Pollution Control Auth., 265 Conn. 114, 124 n. 9 (2003)(use of “including, but not limited to” indicates broad scope of statute); Turtle Island Restoration Network v. National Marine Fisheries Service, 340 F.3d 969, 975 (9th Cir. 2003)(noting that phrase “including, but not limited to” used to indicate nonexclusive list); In re Forfeiture of $ 5,264, 432 Mich. 242, 439 N.W.2d 246, 251-52 (Mich. 1989)("including but not limited to" phrase “connotes an illustrative listing, one purposefully capable of enlargement”).  The list of agencies included in the statute is illustrative, not exclusive.

 

          On its face, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-124g appears intended to restrict direct computer access to certain criminal justice records to entities whose purposes are necessary to the proper execution of law enforcement duties.  The Marshals Service’s request for access to the PRAWN database advances the purpose of the statute.  The Marshals Service is responsible for conducting warrant checks on prisoners held in the federal courts in Connecticut before releasing such prisoners on bond.   Denying the Marshals Service access to the PRAWN database could defeat the purposes underlying Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-124g by increasing the likelihood that a federal prisoner wanted on a state court rearrest warrant will be released into the community.2      

 

           In sum, there exists no legal prohibition preventing the Judicial Branch from providing the Marshals Service access to the PRAWN database.  The Judicial Branch is clearly authorized to and should require that the Marshals Service institute and/or comply with appropriate safeguards to ensure that PRAWN records are accessed, utilized and disseminated only for appropriate law enforcement purposes and that such records are maintained securely.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-121i(d) through (g).   

            

          I trust that this letter responds to your concerns.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance on this or any other matter.

 

 

Very truly yours,

 

 

 

 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 



1 It appears clear that PRAWN records of rearrest warrants constitute “criminal history record information,” which is defined for purposes of § 54-142i(a) to include, inter alia, any “court records and information compiled by criminal justice agencies for purposes of identifying criminal offenders and of maintaining as to each such offender notations of arrests, releases, detentions, indictments, informations, or other formal criminal charges[.]”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-142i(a).

 

2 We understand that the Marshals Service already has access to the Connecticut On-Line Law Enforcement Communications Teleprocessing System (“COLLECT”) database maintained by the Connecticut Department of Public Safety, which includes criminal conviction information.  

Connecticut Department of Public Safety, which includes Connecticut criminal conviction information.  


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