How a Denver Post reporter found that thousands of court cases have been hidden from public view

The Denver Post: Unlike many of the stories we do, this one did not begin with a tip from a source.

It was February 2017 and I was looking into an appeal filed by convicted murderer Aaron Thompson, but I could find no mention of the case — either his conviction or the appeal — on any of the public-record computers the state provides for courthouse searches.

That seemed odd since the case had drawn so much media attention. After a little bit of digging at the Colorado Court of Appeals, I learned it had been suppressed because of the nature of the case and the child victims involved.

I had never bumped into entire cases that were suppressed. Rather, it was common to find prosecutions and civil cases in which specific documents were suppressed from public view because of the sensitive information they contained: embarrassing details of an assault; personal financial details; illegally obtained confessions or evidence.

I began to take note of other reporters in the newsroom mentioning criminal prosecutions that were difficult to cover because the cases were suppressed. I wondered just how many of these cases existed. No one had cobbled it together.

I quickly learned why: You can’t know what you don’t know if there’s no easy way to know it.

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