United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is the defendant's Motion to Seal
Defendant Stier's Sentencing Memorandum [ECF No. 63]. For
the reasons stated herein, the Motion is
DENIED. The court DIRECTS
the Clerk to not unseal the Sentencing
Memorandum and the exhibits attached thereto. The court
ORDERS that the defendant file an unsealed
version of his sentencing memorandum and the exhibits
attached thereto, with redactions in compliance with Local
Rule of Criminal Procedure 49.1.1(a).
August 21, 2017, the defendant, Kenneth Frederick Stier,
pleaded guilty to Distributing and Attempting to Distribute
Child Pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§
2252A(1)(2), 2252A(b)(1). Written Plea of Guilty [ECF No.
48]. Thereafter, the court directed each party to file a
sentencing memorandum “offer[ing] any evidence or
argument related to a requested sentence or sentencing range
in light of Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38
(2007).” Order [ECF No. 50]. Both parties timely filed
sentencing memoranda under seal, and motioned for the court
to keep the memoranda under seal indefinitely. Mot. by U.S.
to Seal [ECF No. 62]; Mot. Seal Def. Stier's Sent. Mem.
[ECF No. 63]. The court has already denied the
government's motion. Order [ECF No. 71].
motion, the defendant argues that the court should seal his
sentencing memorandum and the exhibits attached thereto
because they “reference confidential medical and
personal family information, including information pertaining
to a Child Protective Services investigation, not intended
for public disclosure.” Mot. Seal Def. Stier's
Sent. Mem. 1. The exhibits include: a report describing the
results of a polygraph examination the defendant took, a
Child Protective Services assessment, a forensic
psychological evaluation, and several other generic documents
relating to child pornography that do not specifically relate
to the defendant. Id.
March 28, 2018, the defendant was sentenced to a term of 60
months imprisonment followed by a 20-year term of supervised
release. J. [ECF No. 67]. This sentence was based, in part,
on information it received from the parties' sentencing
memoranda and the exhibits attached thereto.
access to the courts has long been a fundamental tenant of
American democracy, helping to ensure that our system of
justice functions fairly and that citizens can observe the
actions of their government.” David S. Ardia,
Privacy and Court Records: Online Access and the Loss of
Practical Obscurity, 2017 U. Ill. L. Rev. 1385, 1387
(2017). Adhering to this ideology, “courts of this
country recognize a general right to inspect and copy public
records and documents, including judicial records and
documents.” Nixon v. Warner Commc'ns,
Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (footnote omitted). There
are many benefits in allowing the public to inspect court
documents and attend court hearings. For example, it
“fosters the important values of quality, honesty and
respect for our legal system.” In re Providence
Journal Co., Inc., 293 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2002). It
also “curb[s] judicial abuses, and  provide[s] the
public with a more complete understanding of the judicial
system, including a better perception of fairness.”
Doe v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 266 (4th Cir.
2014). Additionally, it allows the public to “judge the
product of the courts in a given case.” Va.
Dep't of State Police v. Wash. Post, 386 F.3d 567,
575 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Columbus-Am. Discovery Grp.
v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 291, 303 (4th Cir.
right of public access to documents or materials filed in a
district court derives from two independent sources: the
common law and the First Amendment.” Id.
(citing Stone v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 855
F.2d 178, 180 (4th Cir. 1988)). “The distinction
between the rights of access afforded by the common law and
the First Amendment is ‘significant, ' because the
common law ‘does not afford as much substantive
protection to the interests of the press and the public as
does the First Amendment.'” Id. (citations
omitted). Thus, “the common law does not provide as
much access to the press and public as does the First
Amendment.” Id. (quoting In re
State-Record Co., 917 F.2d 124, 127 (4th Cir. 1990)).
Regardless of whether the right of access arises from the
common law or the First Amendment, however, it may only be
abrogated in “unusual circumstances.”
Id. at 576.
the common law, there is a presumption that the public has a
right “to inspect and copy ‘all judicial
records and documents.'” Id. at 575
(emphasis added) (quoting Stone, 855 F.2d at 180).
This presumption “can [only] be rebutted if
countervailing interests heavily outweigh the public
interests in access.” Id. (quoting
Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249,
253 (4th Cir. 1988)). When determining whether the
presumption is rebutted, courts must apply a balancing test
that weighs several factors “includ[ing] whether the
records are sought for improper purposes, such as promoting
public scandals or unfairly gaining a business advantage;
whether release would enhance the public's understanding
of an important historical event; and whether the public has
already had access to the information contained in the
records.” Id. (quoting In re Knight Publ.
Co., 743 F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984)). “The
party seeking to overcome the presumption bears the burden of
showing some significant interest that outweighs the
presumption.” Rushford, 846 F.2d at 253.
contrast to the common law, ‘the First Amendment
guarantee of access has been extended only to particular
judicial records and documents.'” Va. Dep't
of State Police, 386 F.3d at 575 (quoting
Stone, 855 F.2d at 180). If the First Amendment
provides a right of access to documents, then the
“district court may restrict access ‘only on the
basis of a compelling governmental interest, and only if the
denial is narrowly tailored to serve that
interest.'” Id. (quoting Stone,
855 F.2d at 180). “The burden to overcome a First
Amendment right of access rests on the party seeking to
restrict access.” Id. (citing Press-Enter.
Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 15 (1986)).
deciding whether to limit public access to documents, courts
must first “‘determine the source of the right of
access with respect to each document, ' because
‘[o]nly then can it accurately weigh the competing
interests at stake.'” Id. at 576
(citations omitted). Then, the court “must give the
public notice of the request to seal and a reasonable
opportunity to challenge the request; it must consider less
drastic alternatives to sealing; and if it decides to seal it
must state the reasons (and specific supporting findings) for
its decision and the reasons for rejecting alternatives to
sealing.” Id. This procedure “ensure[s]
that the decision to seal materials will not be made lightly
and that it will be subject to meaningful appellate