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Store can keep records from police

By Tom Kenworthy

DENVER -- In a First Amendment case that could have national implications, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that a Denver bookstore does not have to give sales records to police seeking information in a drug investigation.
The 6-0 decision Monday overturns a lower court ruling that the Tattered Cover Book Store had to comply with a warrant seeking records on the sale of books about making illicit drugs.

The court said the authorities' need for the information was not ''sufficiently compelling to outweigh'' the likely harm to state and federal constitutional protections.

The court also set a high standard for similar cases in the future. It ruled that bookstores ''must be afforded an opportunity for a hearing prior to the execution of any search warrant'' seeking customers' book-buying records.

The case grew out of a suburban Denver police investigation into a suspected methamphetamine lab. Authorities searching a trailer home housing the lab found the two books and a mailer envelope from the Tattered Cover.

Police sought information on the sale of the books and other book purchases by one of the suspects.

''This was a huge victory,'' said Dan Recht, attorney for the Tattered Cover, a nationally renowned and locally beloved bookstore that houses 500,000 volumes and welcomes book lovers with its cozy ambience.

''All of the 50 states will eventually deal with this issue, and they will look to the Colorado Supreme Court decision for guidance,'' Recht said.

The decision could also play a role in litigation stemming from federal anti-terrorism legislation.

''Part of what is called the USA-Patriot Act includes accessing the very kind of records at issue in the Tattered Cover case,'' said Bruce Jones, who filed a brief on the case for the American Civil Liberties Union.

That legislation gives the FBI broad authority to access personal and business records for intelligence purposes.

''There used to be a clear distinction between a criminal investigation and intelligence gathering,'' said David Sobel, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group in Washington, D.C., that backs privacy protections. ''But no more: The new law drove the final nail in the coffin.''

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