The Supreme Court’s recent landmark opinion in the Lyndhurst case settled some key public records issues, with the Court holding that use of force reports are not exempt under OPRA; investigatory reports, witness statements and other investigatory records are confidential, under both OPRA and the common law; and dashcam videos of fatal police shootings are accessible only under the common law.
But the Court’s opinion also left open a number of major OPRA issues. Here are a few:
-Whether the criminal investigatory exemption applies to MVRs operated under a local police department’s policy. The Court will address this issue in Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor, a case that has not yet been argued.
-Whether the criminal investigatory exemption applies to MVRs of a routine traffic stop. The Lyndhurst Court noted that it was not deciding this issue, because the facts before it clearly involved a criminal investigation.
-Application of OPRA’s privacy protection to the people shown in MVRs. The Court didn’t mention this issue in ordering release of the videos; presumably, no one involved in the case claimed a privacy interest. Again, this question will be considered by the Supreme Court in the Paff case.
-Accessibility of police body camera videos.
-Application of OPRA’s ongoing investigation exemption. The Court provided guidance on this section of OPRA, but it was mostly in the context of investigations into fatal police shootings. The parameters of this exemption will need to be more specifically defined in future cases dealing with the more common types of investigations–criminal investigations not involving police shootings, and the many investigations conducted by non-law enforcement agencies.