PHOENIX — Some defense attorneys are criticizing a policy in the City of Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office to automatically blur body camera video evidence in criminal cases.
In a change that began in April, video footage in a specific subset of cases — many of them DUIs — is entirely blurred from beginning to end.
Defense attorneys must now send the city additional requests for clear sections of the video.
“There’s no reason to blur out the entire video,” said Armando Nava, a defense attorney and president of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice.
“We need to see what is actually going on. How are people responding when police talk to them? What does my client look like when police are video taping him. It’s the whole reason we have body worn camera footage: To have an accurate, complete description of what went on,” Nava said. “This blur completely negates that and does not comply with the rules of criminal procedure or the rules of discovery.”
In a written statement, Phoenix officials said they are disclosing video with a “light blur” to protect criminal justice information in accordance with state law, specifically Arizona Revised Statute 41-1750(Q)(1).
But many attorneys contacted by ABC15 said that statute has nothing to do with blurring body camera videos.
They said it’s a law about specific information kept by a specific law enforcement agency: the Department of Public Safety.
“It doesn’t make much sense,” said Charity Clark, a defense attorney who’s seen the blur applied in multiple cases. “I mean it just seems like an easy way to make things more difficult for defendants to defend cases, attorneys to represent clients well.”
Phoenix’s statement also said the City Public Defender’s Office “did not object to the policy.” The city said the goal is to expedite initial release of the video evidence in cases.
But Nava and Clark said it’s slowing them down.
“It’s just creating a lot more work for everybody in order to get to the bottom of cases and make sure justice is being done,” Clark said.
In Clark’s letter to the city, she asked Phoenix to review their policy change.
“I can assure you the defense bar is discussing this practice and will be challenging it going forward,” she wrote.
If it’s required by state law, defense attorneys also questioned why they aren’t seeing it from other prosecutorial agencies like the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
“I don’t want to speculate too much,” Nava said. “But given everything that’s happen over the past year, I don’t think (the city) wants us seeing everything that’s happened in Phoenix.”
See the full statement from the Phoenix City Prosecutor’s Office below:
“The Phoenix City Prosecutor’s Office discloses body-worn-camera (BWC) video to the defense as it may contain witness and defendant statements and possibly exculpatory information. The Prosecutor’s Office has an obligation under Arizona Revised Statutes §§ 41-1750(Q)(1) and 13-4434, and Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 39 to redact Criminal Justice Information (CJI) and victims’ personal identifying information before evidence is released.
Effective April 5, 2021, in cases with no victim, or those cases with a legal entity as a victim, the Prosecutor’s Office began disclosing BWC video with a light blur to protect CJI in accordance with the obligations outlined in A.R.S. §41-1750(Q). The intent of this policy was to provide quicker disclosure of the video to the defense, while maintaining the legal obligation to prevent CJI from being disclosed.
With each video disclosure, defendants are notified that a light blur may be utilized on BWC video. Defendants are also notified how to request a non-blurred copy. If a request for unblurred video is received by the Prosecutor’s Office, that request is processed and assigned to an employee for redaction, with a due date of no later than 30 days from the date of request. On average those requests are processed within one week. And those requests are the exception rather than the rule.
This practice was discussed with the Phoenix Public Defender’s Office which did not object to the policy as their director understood it would expedite the initial disclosure of BWC video to court-appointed defense counsel. This policy change has significantly accelerated the initial disclosure of the video by the Prosecutor’s Office.”
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.