In the wake of the April 21 killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, I have fielded several media inquiries about our body cam law and the judge’s ruling limiting access to the footage about the shooting. With the help of the School of Government’s public records expert, Frayda Bluestein, I learned several things about our law. Below are a few that stand out to me. (You can read Frayda’s thorough analysis of the body cam law here and a discussion by Jeff Welty of a 2019 amendment to the law here.)
The General Assembly recently amended the law that governs the release of body camera footage. This post explains the change.
My colleagues here have previously blogged about the impact of Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 1609 (2015), and my predecessor Alyson Grine created a handy chart summarizing North Carolina cases on the matter, found here. Rodriguez of course held that a traffic stop may not be extended beyond the time necessary to accomplish the purpose of the stop, absent reasonable suspicion or consent, and effectively overruled prior case law in NC allowing de minimis extensions of such stops. In December, the Court of Appeals issued a new, unanimous decision applying this rule in State v. Miller, ___ N.C. App. ____ (Dec. 20, 2016), temp. stay allowed, ___ N.C. ___ (Jan. 4, 2017). I found it noteworthy for the role that the officer’s body-camera footage played, as well as for the fact that the court applied plain error review to grant the defendant a new trial.
Many law enforcement officers, including those in five of North Carolina’s six largest cities, are or soon will be wearing body cameras. The prevailing view is that the use of such cameras doesn’t constitute a Fourth Amendment search because the cameras record only what an officer is already able to see. This post considers whether the increasing adoption of body cameras and other data-collection technologies could eventually result in body camera recordings being considered searches under the so-called mosaic theory of the Fourth Amendment.