Colorado child abuse confidentiality law violates First Amendment, federal appeals court finds |

Colorado child abuse confidentiality law violates First Amendment, federal appeals court finds

Shelly Bradbury
Denver Post

A Colorado law that prohibits the release of all information in child abuse and neglect cases violates the U.S. Constitution, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week.

The law violates the First Amendment because it is too broad when it prohibits the release of any information contained in reports or records in child abuse and neglect cases in the state’s child welfare system, including information that does not identify the involved child, the Denver-based federal appeals court found.

The ruling comes out of a years-long dispute between Denver family law attorney Jessica Peck and the Colorado Department of Human Services. In a 2019 Westword article, Peck accused Denver Human Services of wrongly seeking to take a 3-year-old girl from her mother.

After she spoke publicly about the case — without identifying the girl — a judge warned her not to continue sharing information with the media. Under current law, anyone who violates confidentiality in a child welfare case can be charged criminally with a misdemeanor.

Peck was not charged or disciplined, but nevertheless went on to challenge the strict confidentiality laws in a federal lawsuit later that year, arguing that the secrecy protected government malpractice. The 10th Circuit last week agreed with Peck that one part of the Colorado law infringes on her First Amendment rights.


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