The Weld County Sheriff’s Office recently mandated that anybody seeking public records from the agency must get a form notarized in order to obtain documents — a move a free speech expert called an unprecedented and unlawful burden.
The Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act allows public agencies to ask members of the public to sign a statement affirming that the records “shall not be used for the direct solicitation of business for pecuniary gain.”
Nowhere in the statute does it say a public entity may require this form to be notarized.
Law enforcement agencies are allowed to ask a requestor to show some form of identification when they seek public documents. The Colorado legislature this year passed a bill outlawing the ID requirement for other public bodies that do not fall under the criminal justice records law.
Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, said he hasn’t seen another agency in the state require notarization of the pecuniary gain statement.
“I don’t see how they’re authorized to do that,” he said. “I don’t see the point of it other than to make someone jump through another hoop to get public records.”
A notary public is typically used when someone needs to prove their identification or requires a witness to verify they are signing a document without duress or intimidation. Property deeds, wills and powers of attorney are some examples of when a member of the public might need a notary’s signature.
Karin McDougal, a Weld County deputy attorney, said the department changed its policy “because we feel that it is a more consistent way to confirm identity.”
Some individuals were not comfortable submitting their IDs to law enforcement, she said in an email. Plus it allows the sheriff’s office to accept online requests. Weld County has notaries at the sheriff’s office who can assist people with their requests, she said.
“Having someone send a picture of an ID is a less secure way of confirming the person is who they say they are,” McDougal said.
Public records normally can be requested through online portals, over the phone or via mail. One does not have to be a resident of Weld County to request records from county agencies.
Roberts pointed out that the requestor is already signing a statement attesting that they will not use the records for business purposes.
“That’s all (the law) requires,” he said.
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