On June 30, 2016, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed an opinion that ordered the Dashboard Motor Vehicle recordings to be disclosed pursuant to the Open Public Records Act, holding that they were government records that were neither exempt as a “criminal investigatory record” nor exempted as part of an “investigation in progress.” The Appellate Court also held that the driver’s “expectation of privacy” did not justify withholding the recordings.
This rule can be both a blessing and a curse for DWI defendants, but nonetheless creates a new tool in defending improper stops and promoting police officer accountability.
The Open Public Records Act provides a right to review, inspect and copy public records. This Act allows anyone from the public to access most records for any or no reason at all, subject to a few exceptions. Once such exception is when an investigation is in progress by a government agency, that agency has the option to restrict access to their files while the investigation is pending. This exception is designed to protect the interest of the public in that access may prematurely undermine the integrity of an innocent person who is under investigation or may endanger the success of an investigation.
This exception has often been used to protect dashboard video evidence and it is the argument that was offered in the recent case. However, the court rejected the argument that the video was part of an ongoing criminal investigation, finding that it was a record made in the ordinary course of police business, prior to any investigation. The Act specifies that public information that is public prior to an investigation will remain public during the investigation. In the case of traffic stops, the initial stop, according to the New Jersey Court of Appeals, is not part of the investigation.
If you are dealing with any criminal defense, it is important to fully understand all of the evidence that may be used against you or that you may use as a defense. The new ruling provides another tool towards that end and it is important to have an experienced attorney who utilizes all tools to your defense.
Call (908) 231-0052 today for more information.
New Jersey criminal defense attorney Steven H. Fleischer is experienced in defending against criminal charges and driving while intoxicated. He understands new changes in the law and their negative and positive implications. Contact our office today for a consultation.