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Videotape Confidentiality Claim Requires Specifics of Reasoning for Review

A New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, has held that a generalized confidentiality assertion by the Department of Corrections (DOC) was improper, and the DOC must present sufficient evidence to enable the court to review its confidentiality claim.

The ruling resulted after a fight among approximately thirty-four prisoners, many of whom were members of the Muslim population or the Bloods gang ? groups found to present a security threat ? at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility.

Based solely upon videotaped recordings, prisoner Ramon Robles was charged with ?conduct [that] disrupts or interferes with the security or orderly running of the correctional facility,? and participation ?in an activity related to a security threat group.?

At Robles? disciplinary hearing the hearing officer reviewed all reports and the videotape. With the exception of the videotape, the hearing officer made available to Robles all incriminating evidence. Robles was found guilty of both charges; he was sanctioned fifteen days detention, 365 days administrative segregation, 365 days loss of commutation time and 180 days loss of recreation.

Following the denial of his administrative appeals, Robles sought review by the Superior Court. On appeal the DOC contended the videotape footage was confidential because disclosure would allow prisoners to discover the ?camera angles, locations, or blind spots? in that aspect of the prison?s security system. Because there was no other corroborating testimony by anyone that Robles had done anything wrong, the videotape evidence was particularly crucial.

Despite the DOC?s assertion, the Court said it could not approve ?a blanket policy of keeping confidential security camera videotapes for security reasons.? On remand the hearing officer was ordered, if the DOC maintained its confidentiality claim, to explain why revealing that particular videotape would impair security.

If the hearing officer reaffirmed the confidentiality claim, there must be disclosure of what wrongful behavior was shown on the videotape apart from Robles' mere presence on the yard, the Court held. Furthermore, the tape's quality must be disclosed as well as the circumstances that facilitated identification of the prisoner; e.g., his face, clothing, speech or any other identifying feature.

In remanding the disciplinary action to the DOC for a new hearing, the Court did not retain jurisdiction. See: Robles v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, 388 N.J.Super. 516, 909 A.2d 755 (N.J.Super.A.D. 2006).

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Related legal case

Robles v. New Jersey Department of Corrections