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Ohio Supreme Court: Most police dash cam footage should be public

If asked to identify some of the technical components found inside the typical squad car, most of us would list computers, GPS systems and, of course, radios. While these elements are all certainly present, this list nevertheless omits a now ubiquitous feature of squad cars across the Buckeye State: dash cams.

Interestingly enough, dash cameras were at the center of an important decision handed down by the Ohio Supreme Court earlier this week concerning whether the footage they capture should be made readily available to the public.

The case in question, State ex rel. Cincinnati Enquirer v. Ohio Dept. of Pub. Safety, revolved around dash cam footage taken during a high-speed chase on Interstate 71 outside Cincinnati that ended in a crash back in January 2015.

Here, the Cincinnati Enquirer's initial request for the recording was denied by officials, and not provided until two months after the defendant driver's March 2015 conviction for fleeing and eluding law enforcement.

For its part, the newspaper filed a mandamus action in March 2015 alleging that the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Highway Patrol, violated the Ohio Public Records Act by refusing to release the recordings.

By a margin of 7-0, the state's high court ruled in this case of first impression that the public is indeed entitled to view almost all police recordings absent a "narrow exception" that allows "investigatory work product" to be kept confidential.

Rather than adopt a sort of bright line rule, however, the court declared that any decision as to whether a dash cam recording should be released must be made on a case-by-case basis.  

"We hold that decisions about whether an exception to public-records disclosure applies to dash-cam recordings require a case-by-case review to determine whether the requested recordings contain investigative work product,” reads the opinion.

As to the case at hand, the Supreme Court held that all but 90 seconds of the hour-plus dash cam recordings capturing the crash should have been released. It went on to deny the Cincinnati Enquirer's request for attorney and legal fees, however, asserting that the Department had relied in good faith on a 2014 state appellate court decision for its refusal to release the footage.

It will be interesting to see how this decision shapes the state's legal landscape in the years ahead, particularly as the demand for greater transparency in law enforcement matters continues to grow.

If you have questions about pursing an appeal in a civil or criminal matter, or would like to learn more about the appeals process in general, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional. 

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