Public Records

Colorado takes a different approach than many other states or even the federal government when it comes to their public records laws — they have two different sets of laws.  There is the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) and the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act (CCJRA).  Both laws govern the release of different types of public records in the state.  Knowing how each of these complimentary laws works is essential to a public records inquiry.

Individuals interested in reading the law  can read both CORA and the CCJRA here.  Either click on the link in the previous sentence or along the menu bar at the top of the page click on Colorado Revised Statutes.   Then click on Title 24.  For CORA , it starts on page 1523, so you’ll have to scroll down a bit.  For CCJRA, it starts on page 1548.  Both the .pdf and .rtf versions use the same pagination, at least for Title 24.

  • CORA § 24-72-201, et. seq.
  • CCJRA § 27-72-301, et. seq.

CORA and CCJRA Differentiated

Okay.  So there are two difrerent laws.  Why does Colorado have two different laws and how does that affect public records requests?

Good questions.

“Although similar in many respects, key definitions of CORA and the CCJRA
differ in a fundamental way. Criminal justice records are restricted to those made,
maintained, or kept by any criminal justice agency.  Public records are those made, maintained, or kept by the State or one of several listed entities, but does not
include criminal justice records.” Harris v. Denver Post Corp., 123 P.3d 1166, 1170-71 (Colo. 2005) (internal citations omitted).

CORA is the near all-encompassing public records law.  This is the default option for public records, except if it is a criminal justice record.

“While Colorado’s two open government laws, CORA and the CCJRA, generally favor
broad disclosure of records, we have construed the CCJRA to favor somewhat less broad
disclosure.”  In re Freedom Colorado Information v. El Paso County Sheriff’s Dept., 196 P.3d 896, 899 (Colo. 2008).

The Colorado Supreme Court tells us the definition is very inclusive, with one of the main exceptions being criminal justice records.

When writing the laws, the Colorado General Assembly differentiated criminal justice records because of the unique privacy implications.  Privacy implications can involve individuals who are arrested or convicted of crimes.  Also, there are privacy interests of criminal justice organizations in order maintain the integrity of its functions.

“Specifically, a custodian should consider the privacy interests of individuals who may be
impacted by a decision to allow inspection; the agency’s interest in keeping confidential
information confidential; the agency’s interest in pursuing ongoing investigations without
compromising them; the public interest to be served in allowing inspection.”  In re Freedom Colorado Information v. El Paso County Sheriff’s Dept., 196 P.3d 896, 903 (Colo. 2008).

Origins of Colorado’s Public Records Law

Going all the way back to Colorado’s territorial days, there have been public records on the books allowing citizens to access government held information. The law was a single provision that covered all governmental entities, unlike the current set of laws that is broken up by a content distinction.

“Every county treasurer shall have and keep in his office a book to be called the Registry of county orders …. [e]very very such registry of county orders shall at all reasonable hours be open to inspection and examination of any person desiring to inspect or examine the same.”1 Revised Statutes of Colorado, Chapter XXI Counties and County Officers, § 16 (1868). “Every county treasurer shall have and keep in his office a book to be called the Registry of county orders, wherein shall be entered and set down at the date of the presentation thereof, and without any interval or blank-line between any such entry and the one preceding it, every county order or other certificate or evidence of county indebtedness at any time presented to such county treasurer for payment, whether the same is paid at the time of presentation or not, the sate and number of such order, the amount for which the same is payable, the date of the presentation thereof, the name of the person to whom such order is by the terms thereof payable, and the name of the person presenting the same.  Every such registry of county orders shall at all reasonable hours be open to inspection and examination of any person desiring to inspect or examine the same.” 

A more extensive analysis of the early public records laws and legal analysis in the state of Colorado can be found at the blog post: Colorado Public Records Laws at Common Law.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Revised Statutes of Colorado, Chapter XXI Counties and County Officers, § 16 (1868). “Every county treasurer shall have and keep in his office a book to be called the Registry of county orders, wherein shall be entered and set down at the date of the presentation thereof, and without any interval or blank-line between any such entry and the one preceding it, every county order or other certificate or evidence of county indebtedness at any time presented to such county treasurer for payment, whether the same is paid at the time of presentation or not, the sate and number of such order, the amount for which the same is payable, the date of the presentation thereof, the name of the person to whom such order is by the terms thereof payable, and the name of the person presenting the same.  Every such registry of county orders shall at all reasonable hours be open to inspection and examination of any person desiring to inspect or examine the same.” 

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