Olympia – September 27, 2001 - Traffic-accident reports prepared by law enforcement officers in compliance with state law are subject to public disclosure and copying under the state Public Disclosure Act, an Attorney General Opinion released today concludes.
The AG’s conclusion is based on a new state Supreme Court opinion, Guillen v. Pierce County, that addressed the same question. In that opinion, filed earlier this month, the court found that "accident reports and supplemental reports" prepared by law officers in accordance with state law are subject to public disclosure. (However, reports prepared by drivers or passengers involved in accidents are not subject to public disclosure, the Supreme Court said.)
Under state law, drivers or in some cases passengers are required to file written reports about accidents that involve injury, death or serious property damage, unless such a report is filed by an investigating law enforcement officer. The law requires officers who are present at the scene of such accidents to file reports.
The Attorney General Opinion was prepared in response to a question by Thurston County Prosecutor Edward Holm. Holm asked whether a law restricting use of accident reports to prosecutors and law enforcement officials also applied to the reports filed by police. Based on the new Supreme Court opinion, the Attorney General Opinion concluded it does not.
Attorney General opinions provide advice to the Legislature and state officials and are considered persuasive in court proceedings, but are not legally binding.