10/8/2015Pennsylvania Court Makes Dashcam Videos Public Record
Appellate court in Pennsylvania rules that police must hand over dashcam video of a traffic stop.
Police in Pennsylvania may no longer withhold their dashcam recordings from the public under an appellate ruling handed down on Monday. A three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court said the Pennsylvania State Police was wrong to deny a motorist's request for the video recording of a traffic stop.
A trooper patrolling in State College on April 23, 2014, pulled over Casey J. Grove, allegedly because his Nissan Frontier pickup truck had an obstructed license plate. Although Grove only received a warning, he was angry at being hassled even though the truck's plate was perfectly legal. When Grove asked for a copy of the trooper's dashcam video so he could review exactly what the trooper saw, the state police sent back a denial form letter that claimed the video was an "investigative record" exempt from disclosure. Grove appealed to the state Office of Open Records. State police officials insisted no audio of the traffic encounter existed, even though police procedures mandate the recording of both audio and video during traffic stops.
"A review of the [mobile video recording] details a traffic stop conducted by Trooper Shivery regarding an in-progress vehicle code violation," Officer William A. Rozier wrote in an affidavit. "Although the 'on person' microphone was active, it did not record the encounter as indicated by the MVR and [mobile video recording] download request form."
The state Office of Open Records agreed with Grove that the video must be handed over, so the state police appealed in an attempt to prevent similar videos from being made public in the future. The Commonwealth Court looked at the evidence and found no reason to withhold the records, particularly since the court had ruled in July that motorist Michelle Grove was entitled to the dashcam video from an accident scene.
"We rejected the state police's argument that the video recording documented a criminal investigation simply because the traffic accident resulted in a citation," Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote about the July case. "We stated that 'the mere fact that a record has some connection to a criminal proceeding does not automatically exempt it under the Right-to-Know Law.'"
For Casey Grove, it was even more obvious that the state police claim of an investigatory exception to the public records act was invalid.
"The recording in this case depicts an in-progress vehicle code violation, i.e., obstruction of a license plate, that resulted in a warning," Judge Leavitt explained. "In [the case of Michelle] Grove, the activity recorded actually did result in a traffic citation, i.e., a summary criminal offense. Nevertheless, we found the connection to a criminal investigation too tenuous to allow the state police to claim the recording to be exempt as investigatory in nature. Here, 'the connection to a criminal proceeding' is non-existent. [Casey] Grove received only a warning."
A copy of the decision is available in a 150k PDF file at the source link below.