The Supreme Court of Ohio has held that a public records request is equivalent to a demand for discovery in criminal proceedings.
The case is State v. Athon.
In 2010, the Defendant was arrested by the Ohio State Highway Patrol after he was charged with operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, speeding, and failing to reinstate his driver’s license. The Defendant was represented by Steven Adams and plead not guilty. Adams asked another attorney to obtain the defendant’s arrest evidence by making a public records request, as opposed to participating a discovery pursuant of Crim.R. 16.
At trial, in March of 2011, the state argued that the Defendant was required to provide reciprocal discovery, suggesting that the attorney’s public records request acted as a demand for discovery. Under Criminal Rule 16, if a defendant requests discovery, this triggers a reciprocal duty of disclosure.
The Supreme Court of Ohio addressed two issues: “whether an accused in a criminal case may request public records to obtain information that could be demanded from the state during discovery, and if so, whether such a request triggers a reciprocal duty of disclosure to the state.”
The court held that a request for public records could be considered a demand for discovery from the state, and does in fact carry with it a reciprocal duty of disclosure from Crim.R. 16: “When an accused directly or indirectly makes a public records request for information that could be obtained from the prosecutor through discovery, the request is the equivalent of a demand for discovery and triggers a duty to provide reciprocal discovery as contemplated by Crim.R. 16.”
The court cited cases involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to support this conclusion. In one case, including United States v. Murdock, 548 F.2d 599, 602 (5th Cir.1977), a federal appeals court said: “Although information obtained through the FOIA may be useful in a criminal trial, we find that the FOIA was not intended as a device to delay ongoing litigation or to enlarge the scope of discovery beyond that already provided by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure”.
Justices Pfeifer, Kennedy, and O’Neill dissented.