A New Jersey judge ruled that videos taken by copy car-mounted cameras during routine traffic stops are public records and that they must be available to both the prosecutor and defense attorney on a case – and anyone else interested in viewing them. The problem, say some prosecutors, is that “anyone” can refer to potential jury candidates.
Last month. Gov. Chris Christie signed a law that would require all police cars (used for traffic enforcement) to be equipped with dashboard cameras. People who are fans of the cameras believe they protect the people from police misconduct or excessive force used during traffic stops.
Many municipalities have used the cameras for many years. However, until now, these videos have not been part of the public record. Therefore, police officers and their legal representatives could request they not be admissible in court. In several cases, lawyers for the police officers, or prosecutors, have asked that the videos be removed from evidence in that they were part of ongoing investigations and, in some cases, internal affairs issues.
The judge disagreed this week, essentially noting that the police agencies can’t use those videos when they fit their case but not allow them to be part of the public record so citizens (including those charged with crimes) can use them, as well. Should a police investigation require the videos to be kept private, a prosecutor could petition for that on a case-by-case basis.
Joseph Coronato, the prosecutor in Ocean County, said he will appeal the ruling. According to his spokesman, he believes the automatic release of police car dashboard videos could be an advantage to defense attorneys who may claim they will taint jury pools.
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