Attorney Helen Stolinas of The Mazza Law Group, PC in State College, argued a case of statewide importance involving a police dashcam and the Right to Know Law yesterday before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Her client is Michelle Grove of Spring Mills.
The case arose when Ms. Grove filed a request for a “dashcam” video recording from the Pennsylvania State Police which documented the police response to a traffic accident which happened in Potters Mills, Pennsylvania on March 22, 2014.
Under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law the State Police denied the request, but the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records granted access, resulting in an appeal to the Commonwealth Court, which also found that the video was a public record and should be released. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to consider this case of statewide importance, and argument took place yesterday before the Supreme Court in Philadelphia.
At issue was whether the documentation of a routine response to a traffic incident is a “public record,” and therefore subject to public access under the Right to Know Law. Attorney Stolinas made both policy and legal arguments for the release of such videos, noting in court that the challenges of recent years regarding police community relations provide a strong justification for the release of the videos.
The State Police took the position in court that such recordings would violate provisions of the Wiretap Act, but Attorney Stolinas noted that the Wiretap Act only applies to recordings made when the individual being recorded has a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Under the circumstances of the case, she argued that the individuals could not expect that their statements, made alongside a public roadway, were private or not being recorded by police.
In light of an argument made by counsel for the Pennsylvania State Police that release of video recordings would place a burden on police agencies due to the need for redaction of certain portions of the videos due to privacy concerns, Attorney Stolinas noted that technology is likely to improve, thereby reducing the burden of redaction.