How Paper Found Thousands of Sealed Criminal Cases

The Denver Post found that among thousands of court cases whose files the state had sealed for various reasons, five dozen were felonies in which defendants had been tried, convicted and sentenced, but no records are publicly available.

Last year, reporter David Migoya of the Denver Post was looking into an appeal filed by convicted murderer Aaron Thompson, but could find no mention of the case — either his conviction or the appeal — on any of the public-record computers the state provides for courthouse searches, Migoya writes. He found that the case file had been sealed because it involved child victims. Migoya had never found an entire case file suppressed.

Rather, it was common to find prosecutions and civil cases in which specific documents were suppressed from public view because of the sensitive information they contained: embarrassing details of an assault; personal financial details; illegally obtained confessions or evidence. Migoya found that in the state court system, a single abbreviation, “suppr,” was used to denote that the case was restricted from public access. Migoya asked the state to make a count of any case where the code appeared at any time over the past five years. It took them two weeks, but eventually the newspaper determined that 2,755 criminal case files were sealed over a five-year period. of those, more than five dozen criminal felony cases remain suppressed even though the defendants have been tried, convicted and sentenced, some to lengthy prison terms. The newspaper’s investigation concluded that someone could be arrested, charged, convicted and sentenced for a crime in Colorado without anyone outside of law enforcement ever knowing who, how, why or whether the process was fair.