A New Jersey appellate court ruled on Monday that law enforcement officers can keep their surveillance locations a secret, if disclosure could cause harm to investigators or the public.
Ismael Maldonado was convicted of drug charges in 2008 after an undercover officer testified that he saw Maldonado participating in drug deal. Mark English, a Camden County Prosecutor’s office investigator, said that he and a partner witnessed Maldonado exchange a small plastic bag for cash the morning of September 14, 2007. Maldonado’s defense attorney argued that investigators should reveal where they had been watching from.
During a hearing, English sketched a map of the scene for the judge and said his vehicle was parked directly across the intersection and less than 10 yards from where the drug transaction took place, but said the exact surveillance location should remain confidential because the area was a hot spot for drug activity and there were still ongoing investigations.
Maldonado’s attorney said that anyone reviewing the public record, based on English’s comments, would know that investigators were parked in a car on that block, so there was no reason not to reveal the exact location of the vehicle.
The judge ruled that state law bars the disclosure of official information such as surveillance sites if disclosure is deemed “harmful to the interest of the public.” The judge’s decision also noted that other law enforcement officers had been “confronted in a hostile manner” while surveilling a nearby location.
The judge ruled that the only information English needed to provide was his distance from the transaction, whether he used vision-enhancing equipment, his vantage point, any obstructions between him and the defendant, and the lighting conditions.
photo by mK B/flickr