Videos show what happened, but can police refuse to produce them?

For months, amateur and police videos of confrontations between police and citizens have made headlines and stoked anger. Just last week, a video showed a police officer hitting a woman. The value and power of all types of videos is that they can show what happened. Certain police agencies in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have attempted to refuse to produce them. Whether police videos must be produced affects not only criminal cases but also civil cases alleging deprivation of civil rights.


Important cases addressing whether police can refuse to produce videos taken from their police cars are pending before the top courts in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In New Jersey, the first level appellate court ruled in a case involving a fatal shooting of a suspected burglar that various records, including police mobile video recorders, were exempt from production.[1] In Pennsylvania, by contrast, the Commonwealth Court ruled that similar police video recordings were not exempt from production.[2]


While we wait for what will hopefully be definitive rulings from the Supreme Courts of each State on whether the video recordings must be produced, recent opinions of lower courts in each State remind us of the power of video and the requirements for requesting them.


In Pennsylvania, in two cases decided just last month, the Superior Court reviewed videos of police stops and concluded that they corroborated the officers’ testimony.[3]


In New Jersey, two police officers made significant contradictions regarding the circumstances of a car stop. A glaring contradiction was that one officer said he talked to the driver, while the other said to the contrary that he talked to the driver. One week after the arrest, and so in plenty of time to obtain the videos, defense counsel had been told how to obtain the videos. Defense counsel did not follow up. The mobile video recordings were automatically recorded over after 31 days. The defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment due to loss of the videos was denied.[4] The lesson is the lesson is that your lawyer should not delay in attempting to obtain videos! This applies to all types of videos, including bar surveillance videos.


Finally, this month a New Jersey Court reminds us that in addition to the potential right to obtain videos under the Open Public Records Act, New Jersey also allows access to public documents under the common law. The common law reaches a broader class of documents. The opinion discusses the factors that must be considered in deciding whether or not to grant access.[5]


Locks Law Firm has experience in obtaining videos in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We stand ready to help you.


[1] North Jersey Media Group, Inc. v. Township of Lyndhurst, 441 N.J. Super. 70, 116 A.3d 570 (App. Div.), motion for leave to appeal granted, 223 N.J. 553, 127 A.3d 699 (2015).

[2] Pa. State Police v. Grove, 119 A.3d 1102 (Pa. Commw., 2015), petition for allowance of appeal granted, 133 A.3d 292 (Pa., 2016).

[3] Com. v. Freeman, 2016 Pa. Super. LEXIS 630 (Oct. 31, 2016); Com. v. Lockhart, 2016 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3911 (Oct. 25, 2016).

[4] State v. Santiago, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2271 (App. Div., Oct. 18, 2016).

[5] Paff v. Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, 2016 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2485 (App. Div., Nov. 17, 2016).

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