Michigan lawmakers pass bills to shield victims’ privacy in criminal cases

By Kyle Kaminski

October 25, 2023

Michigan Attorney General Nessel has thrown her support behind legislation designed to protect victims from having their personal information released in court.

LANSING — Bills that passed this week in the Michigan House of Representatives aim to help protect the personal information of crime victims and witnesses from being disclosed in court.

House Bills 4738 and 4739—introduced by Democratic Reps. Kelly Breen and Denise Mentzer—would require prosecutors to redact identifying personal information (like home addresses and phone numbers) of witnesses and victims of crimes in certain court records, as well as prohibit that information from being released to defendants who are accused of crimes.

In a statement this week, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said victims are often deterred from reporting crimes or participating in trials because, under state law, their personal information can be released to defendants (and their attorneys) during the discovery process. 

She argued the legislation is needed because giving alleged abusers access to victims’ phone numbers, addresses, and other personal details can create “grave risks” for their safety.

“Crime victims and witnesses show great strength and courage when they face their assailants and abusers in the courtroom, and protecting them from further victimization and violence is a critical component of the criminal justice system,” Nessel said. “These bills protect the most vulnerable individuals in our judicial system by shielding their addresses and phone numbers.”

The legislation has been referred to by lawmakers as the “Starkisha Thompson Bills,” in reference to the murder of Starkisha Thompson, which authorities believe was in retaliation for Thompson’s testimony in support of the prosecution of a carjacking, of which she was the victim.

The bills define personal information as a home address; telephone number; driver’s license number; social security number; date of birth; mother’s maiden name; and the name and address of an employer. 

Under the legislation, prosecutors would be required to redact those details from court records—including those provided to defendants—unless they play a role in the circumstances of the alleged crime. Unauthorized disclosure would be a misdemeanor.

“Fairness and justice should occur on both sides of the courtroom,” Nessel said. “In the criminal justice system, victims are not an interference to our work, victims are the reason for our work.” 

Both bills must now pass through the state Senate before they can head to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk to be signed into law. Nessel encouraged lawmakers to move quickly. 

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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