California law re-seals some child abuse autopsies

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

On the California Watch blog, Ryan Gabrielson reports that the state has partially reversed a SB 39, the 2008 ruling that made public the autopsy reports of all children who died from abuse.
autopsy-description-sheet

The measure, nearly unopposed in the state Assembly and Senate, empowers the parent (biological, legal, or by marriage) of a child who died as a result of a crime to have the autopsy report sealed.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office initiated the legislation. But unlike many similar exemptions to the state public records law, the child autopsy bill is not driven by law enforcement concern about undermining criminal investigation.

Instead, Gabrielson writes, the law was passed so that families aren’t “victimized a second time” by media coverage of the autopsy reports. Gabrielson seems to find this logic curious, as “the opening section of SB 39 two years ago specifically discussed information dissemination as critical to advancing public safety.”

Gabrielson also notes that the new law comes less than a month after The Los Angeles Times reported that L.A. County failed to make dozens of child abuse deaths public.

Full coverage of the legislation, from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, can be found here.

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