happened? In 2011, LexisNexis Risk Data Management, Inc. and LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc. (hereinafter, "LexisNexis") filed a public records request with
the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”) and the Wake
County Clerk of Superior Court requesting a copy of North Carolina’s Automated
Criminal/Infraction System (“ACIS”). See
LexisNexis Risk Data Mgmt. Inc. v. N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts,
No. 101PA14, slip op. at 2 (N.C. Aug. 21, 2015), available here. ACIS is North Carolina’s electronic criminal
records database, which is actively maintained by individual Clerks of Superior
Court across the state. See id. at
3. ACIS contains criminal case data from
the time a case is initiated until its final disposition. Id. According to the AOC,
“most data reports requested by the news media, special interest groups,
researchers, and citizens use ACIS data.” See
Automated Criminal/Infractions Systems (ACIS), North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (Aug.
2014) (). Therefore, ACIS is a useful tool for
researchers seeking access to state criminal records.
However, both the AOC and
the Wake County Superior Clerk of Court denied the request, and LexisNexis subsequently
filed suit seeking an order requiring production under the North Carolina
Public Records Act. See LexisNexis Risk
Data Mgmt., No. 101PA14, slip op. at 5; N.C.G.S. §132-9(a). The case was dismissed at the trial court
level and that decision was later reversed by the North Carolina Court of
Appeals in favor of LexisNexis, finding that the AOC was the custodian of ACIS
and that ACIS was an “electronic data-processing record” and thus a public
record under the Public Records Act. See id. at 6; N.C.G.S. §132-1(a). The
decision was then appealed and taken up for discretionary review by the North
Carolina Supreme Court. See LexisNexis
Risk Data Mgmt., No. 101PA14, slip op. at 8.
In its decision, the
North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that
criminal records stored in ACIS are not included within the purview of the
North Carolina Public Records Act, but are instead covered under N.C.G.S. §7A-109(d). Id. at 13. That statute provides in relevant
part: "In order to facilitate public access
to court records, except where public access is prohibited by law, the Director
may enter into one or more nonexclusive contracts under reasonable cost
recovery terms with third parties to provide remote electronic access to the
records by the public." N.C.G.S. §7A-109(d).
N.C.G.S. §7A-109(d), the AOC can require private parties to enter into a
contract with the AOC to obtain remote electronic access to court records.
does this mean for you? As a result of the North Carolina
Supreme Court’s decision, LexisNexis' data broker databases will not have free access to ACIS and must pay the AOC for electronic usage. It is not apparent from the filing what the LexisNexis data broker databases intended to do with the ACIS records. However, if they had planned on making these records available online through LexisNexis' legal research database, UNC Law faculty and students would then have access to such materials.
At the very least, the Court's decision clearly applies to all third parties seeking ACIS records, including private legal research databases. As a result, it is unclear when (if ever) North Carolina criminal records will be made available online through a legal research database.
individuals wishing to examine a particular criminal record must visit the
relevant Clerk of Court’s office and (1) view those documents through a public
terminal with access to ACIS, (2) inspect the physical records themselves, or (3)
request a copy of the records from the Clerk’s office.
Posted by Melissa M. Hyland on Fri. September 11, 2015 1:15 PM