Annulments Law Protects Freedom of Press

In June of 2011, Governor Lynch signed House Bill 82, which changed the way journalists, reporters, and media outlets were protected when publishing the names of persons who had been convicted of a crime then had their records annulled. The bill successfully passed through the House in February of 2011, then the Senate on June 1, 2011, before reaching Lynch’s desk on June 29 last year.

Prior to the bill, journalists who reported a crime that had been annulled could be penalized by law. To make matters worse, courts weren’t allowed to say if the crime had been annulled, leaving reporters and journalists wondering whether they should report the crimes or not, and if crimes they’d reported in the past would cause them hardship in the future.

As Felice Belman, of the Concord Monitor, stated shortly after the law was passed, “Some people who want their name stricken from the record are simply embarrassed by a past indiscretion. Some are trying to find work.” Like many media outlets, the Concord Monitor was forced to remove the names of the people involved in the crimes prior to the new law, which “diminishes the quality of that record,” said Belman. Now, thanks to HB 82, the annulment may be added without tampering with the original content of the report.

Under the new law, journalists and reporters will not be subject to any penalties for reporting that a person had a criminal record that had been annulled, including the content of that record. The law also protects journalists from penalties if a person’s criminal record is published without reporting the annulment if the reporter had no knowledge of the annulment. The journalist or media outlet will also not be subject to penalties for not removing or correcting a previous record that a person has a criminal record that has been annulled, under the new law.

HB 82 States:

XVI. A journalist or reporter shall not be subject to civil or criminal penalties for publishing or broadcasting:
(a) That a person had a criminal record that has been annulled, including the content of that record.
(b) That a person has a criminal record, including the content of such record, without reporting that the record has been annulled, if the journalist or reporter does not have knowledge of the annulment.
XVII. No person or entity, whether public or private, shall be subject to civil or criminal penalties for not removing from public access or making corrections to a report or statement that a person has a criminal record, including the content of such record, if thereafter the criminal record was annulled. This provision shall apply to any report or statement, regardless of its format.

Many news outlets, both in print and online, report on crimes throughout their communities. While print newspapers may be tossed away, what is published online is easily available. Searches on names of those with a criminal history, annulled or not, will allow the public to access the history. The new law now protects those that publish these public records.

As a courtesy to our readers, Londonderry News has always been fair when it comes to annulments. Prior to the new law, if an annulment was made and we were notified, we would remove the person’s name from all instances on our website pertaining to the crime. After the new law, once we receive a copy of the annulment, we add the annulment to the original article and notify the search engines of the change.

As with other news sites and papers, Londonderry News is simply reporting on the crimes and arrests in town. We receive the police logs, from which the published crimes are derived, directly from the Londonderry Police Department. Each day, the police logs are sent to any media outlet. They are also published online periodically in batches on the Town of Londonderry website and emails are sent to an individual that has “opted-in” on their mailing list. When available, the police will also attach any necessary images to the logs.

We firmly believe that all parties involved in the crimes are innocent until proven guilty and do not publish the crimes to humiliate or embarrass the individuals. Also, like other media outlets, the crimes are published on our website without a byline.

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