The next time you are in a motor vehicle accident, look carefully at the responding police car: you may be immortalized on both video and audio.
Two cars collided on a spring day in Potter Township, Centre County. One driver received a citation for failing to yield the right-of-way. The other received a citation for failure to use a seatbelt. From this minor accident a major decision was just issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Pennsylvania State Police v. Grove, 2017 WL 2645401 (Pa., June 20, 2017).
This accident rose to the mighty Grove because two state police cars responded. One had a video-only dash cam video, or motor vehicle recording (MVR), while the second had a video and audio MVR. The Court held that both videos were discoverable. The Court rejected objections based on multiple Acts.
First, the Court held that MVRs are public records and so subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law unless an exception applies. Confirming that exceptions to disclosure must be narrowly construed, the Court held that whether the criminal investigation exception applies must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Here the videos did not depict the accident. They showed the troopers observing the crash scene and engaging with drivers and bystanders. The Court held that the videos did not fall under the criminal investigation exception.
Similarly, the Court held that whether the videos contained protected investigative information under the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) must also be determined on a case-by-case basis. The Court held that this Act did not prevent disclosure of the videos.
Further, the Court held that the Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Act did not prevent disclosure of the audio portion of the MVR because the speakers, conversing in broad daylight at the scene of an accident on a public roadway where the police had responded, could not have had a justifiable expectation that their conversations would not be intercepted.
Grove does not hold that dash cam videos are always discoverable. Whether a particular video depicts a criminal investigation will have to be addressed in each case. Whether the audio portion of the video should be redacted based on either the Right-to-Know Law or CHRIA was not addressed in Grove. Much litigation remains.
Dash cam videos can be crucial not only in criminal cases but also in civil cases such as motor vehicle accidents and civil rights violations. Locks Law Firm has experience in obtaining many types of surveillance videos in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We stand ready to help you.