U.S. Court of Appeals: Colorado Statute Criminalizing Disclosure of Child Abuse Information Is Unconstitutional

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A Colorado statute that criminalizes the public disclosure of all child abuse and neglect records violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held Tuesday.

The federal appeals court ruled in a case brought by Denver lawyer Jessica Peck, who says the law prevents her and others from speaking out about government misfeasance and malfeasance without fear of prosecution. In 2019, she sued Denver District Attorney Beth McCann and Michelle Barnes, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

“Ms. Peck is likely to confront a scenario where she has to choose between either following the law … and forgoing prohibited speech, or representing her clients and holding public officials accountable to the best of her abilities moving forward by making her desired disclosures,” the circuit judges wrote.

The ruling says Peck’s free speech “is indisputably chilled” by § 19-1-307(4), part of a state statute that is intended to protect the privacy of children, families and informants in child abuse and neglect cases.