CHEYENNE — A Wyoming state lawmaker wants to change a provision of state law that keeps the identities of people charged with sexual assault secret until they’re bound over to district court.
Rep. Sam Krone’s bill, which the House received for introduction Wednesday, would allow the release of defendant’s names as soon as they are charged with sexual assault, the same as any other felony.
Under Wyoming law, a defendant must go through a preliminary hearing in circuit court. A judge must determine that there is sufficient evidence to send the case to district court before the defendant’s name can be released to the public.
“Right now in Wyoming, there’s only one crime where the defendant has confidentiality, and that’s the crime of sexual assault,” Krone, a Cody Republican and assistant Park County prosecutor, said Wednesday. “And that’s sexual assault in terms of adult-on-adult sexual assault, and adult-on-a-minor sexual assault.”
As it stands, Krone said, a person may be in custody while employers, neighbors and school districts aren’t aware of sexual assault charges against that person. He said defendants can make bond and be in the community for months before anyone else knows they’ve been charged with a crime.
“It’s an important public policy decision that that sort of information should be released, and people should have that,” Krone said.
The existing law blocking release of names prompted legal challenges from news organizations.
The Wyoming Press Association, several Wyoming newspapers and The Associated Press last year challenged the closure of court proceedings for a Casper man who pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and sexual abuse of a Glenrock girl last summer.
District Judge Keith Kautz, of Torrington, ruled that circuit court hearings and records concerning sex crimes don’t necessarily have to be closed. The case is still pending, and his ruling doesn’t apply statewide.
In another recent case, authorities in Fremont County used the law to withhold the names of both the victim and a suspect in a homicide until charges were filed in district court.
Krone said he’s generally received support for his bill.
“I’ve got a little bit of pushback from individual members who are worried about a false accusation of sexual assault,” he said. “Basically what I’ve countered that with is that it’s a long process, it’s part of the system. If a prosecutor feels that they have enough to proceed, it’s just like any other case.”
Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association, supported the legislation.
“It’s a good idea because now we don’t know if there’s a predator on the loose on our streets,” Angell said. “I’ll make it that simple: We’ve got someone accused of assaulting a child, we don’t know who that person is.”
Angell said some judges interpret the law to seal entire cases.