The Commonwealth Court recently held that there is no blanket exemption for “Mobile Video Recordings” (MVRs) of traffic stops under the Right to Know Law’s (RTKL) “criminal investigation” exemption and that videos of stops that result in no traffic citation are not exempt from disclosure.

Grove was pulled over by a Pennsylvania State Trooper for “obstruction of license plate” and received a warning but no citation. Four days later Grove submitted a RTKL request to the State Police requesting a copy of all audio and video of the stop. The State Police’s Open Records Officer denied the request, stating no audio existed and that there was a blanket exemption from RTKL disclosure of MVRs as records of “criminal investigations.”

Grove appealed the denial to the Office of Open Records (OOR), arguing the State Police’s invocation of the investigative exemption was overbroad. The State Police responded by citing OOR’s prior decisions in Keller v. Pa. State Police and Otto v. Pa. State Police as establishing a blanket exemption for MVRs from RTKL requests. OOR reversed the State Police’s decision. It also expressly reversed Otto and Keller, holding those decisions to be overbroad because they created a blanket exemption for MVRs without requiring consideration of whether the recording at issue was investigatory in nature.

The State Police appealed to the Commonwealth Court. It argued that the MVR was exempt under the RTKL “criminal investigation” exemption and that it could not be disclosed pursuant to the Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) as it was “investigative information.” The court affirmed OOR’s determination. First it permitted the State Police to supplement the record with an additional affidavit providing details about the stop and its reasoning for claiming an exemption. Next it concluded that MVRs were not inherently investigative. Because Grove’s stop did not result in a citation, there was no connection to a criminal investigation in this instance and therefore disclosure was not prohibited under CHRIA or exempt from RTKL disclosure.

Click here to read: Pa. State Police v. Grove, 1646 C.D. 2014 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. Sep. 28, 2015).