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As our world becomes more connected and integrated by technology, constant surveillance is an everyday reality. It seems that everyone, from the local convenience store to the doctor, is interested in recording their customers. This type of monitoring is concerning enough, but what about when police start recording the activities of everyone they encounter? This footage can be used to charge someone with a crime, and a criminal defense attorney should be consulted following a negative run-in with police. On the other hand, some surveillance by police can be useful, including body-worn and dashboard video recorders that may contradict the police version of what transpired during contact with a suspect. Regardless of its potential purpose or use, people should generally be aware of the growing trend by police departments to monitor citizens. A town in northern California recently announced its plan to install a camera at the entrance to the city that will supplement license plate readers already present in several intersections. The camera is supposed to serve as an anti-crime measure by allowing police to identify alleged suspects and track a vehicle’s location. This plan raises the question – do police have free reign on when and how citizens are monitored, and do individuals charged with crimes have the ability to access such recordings? Obtaining access to police footage is a vital step in mounting a defense to a criminal charge, and the law on when and how police can record private citizens, and when a person can acquire copies of such recordings, will be discussed below.

Recorded Conversations

Going off depictions in the movies, one would probably think that police can listen to and record the conversations of private citizens at will. While police do have fairly wide latitude on when they may eavesdrop on conversations, the law does require them to obtain court orders before installing a wire tap or intercepting cell phone calls. A court will only approve this type of request if particular crimes are under investigation, namely:

  • drug crimes involving more than three pounds or 10 gallons of meth, heroin, cocaine or PCP;
  • murder;
  • kidnapping for ransom or extortion, or in connection with robbery or rape;
  • felonies related to explosive devices;
  • acts of terror;
  • violation of state street gang laws; and
  • conspiracy to commit any of the above.

Further, police must show that standard investigation methods are insufficient because they had been tried and failed, were unlikely to succeed, or are too dangerous to attempt.

Accessing Police Recordings

Obtaining access to police recordings if a person is charged with a crime is part of the discovery process of the criminal case. Discovery entitles the defendant to any evidence the prosecution plans to use to convict. Discovery usually starts informally with the defense attorney sending a request to the prosecutor for case records. However, when it comes to highly sensitive and possible exculpatory evidence, the defense usually has to file formal motions with the court to compel disclosure of this vital information from the government. Police recordings firmly fall within this group. A court procedure called a Brady Motion could be used to compel the prosecution to turn over any evidence favorable to the defendant if it seems not all relevant evidence was disclosed. If the government failed to properly preserve favorable evidence, an unfortunately common issue with police recordings, the defense can file a Trombetta/Youngblood motion to seek sanctions against the prosecution, such as suppression of evidence, for such lapses.

Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney

If criminal charges have been, or are likely to be, filed against you, you need a criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and challenge the prosecutor in court. The Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC understands how overwhelming this situation is, and will do everything possible to get you the best available outcome. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us for a free consultation.

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