In October, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that if passed, would enable more expansive use of police body cameras, while also making it more difficult to obtain those recordings. Senate Bill 976 could have a significant impact on how cases are investigated, charged, and prosecuted in the state, so if you were arrested or charged with a crime and have questions or concerns about how the law could affect your rights, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can explain the law’s implications and protect your interests.
Access to Government Recordings
If passed, Senate Bill 976 would amend the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act and so allow law enforcement officers to use body cameras and dashboard cameras with both video and audio recording capabilities. However, the law would also make it much more difficult for the public to have access to these recordings, which is a right that was previously guaranteed by the Right to Know Act.
Although the Right to Know Act was intended to expand access to government records, the new law would require those who are seeking copies of specific records to complete a series of restrictive procedural steps, including:
- Filing a written request within two weeks of the date that the recording was created;
- Identifying every person in the video before seeing it; and
- Paying fees to the law enforcement organization.
Even after completing these steps, a person may still be denied access to video and audio recordings if they contain information that is related to an investigation. Furthermore, investigations are defined broadly, meaning that law enforcement officers have a significant amount of discretion in barring civilian access to recordings. For instance, an audio or video recording is considered to pertain to an investigation if it includes:
- Complaints of potential criminal conduct;
- The identity of a confidential source or a suspect who has not been charged;
- Victim information;
- Information made confidential by law or court order;
- Information that would reveal the institution, progress, or result of a criminal investigation;
- Information that would deprive someone of the right to a fair trial;
- Information that, if disclosed, would impair the ability of a police officer, district attorney, or the attorney general to locate a defendant;
- Information that would hinder someone’s arrest, prosecution, or conviction; or
- Information that would endanger the life or safety of another person.
Unfortunately, because the definition of what qualifies as pertaining to an investigation is so broad, members of the public may still find themselves without access to body camera recordings.
Contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim Today to Speak With an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney
At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our legal team is focused on aggressively representing and protecting the interests of our clients, which includes their rights to access government records, so if you or a loved one is being denied access to a law enforcement recording in Philadelphia, please contact a member of our legal team at (215) 486-0123 to set up a free consultation.