The Disclosure of Police Misconduct Records (Part 1)

by | Nov 30, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On June 7, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the statewide case of In re Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive Nos. 2020-5 and 2020-6. The principal issue concerned whether the Attorney General exceeded his authority in mandating the release of the identities of New Jersey police officers who have been terminated, demoted, or suspended for more than five days.

Chief Justice Rabner wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: In June 2020, weeks after George Floyd was killed at the hands of a Minneapolis Police Officer, the Attorney General for New Jersey issued two Directives. They call for the release of the names of law enforcement officers who commit disciplinary violations that result in the imposition of “major discipline” — termination, demotion, or a suspension of more than five days. A summary of the misconduct and the sanction imposed must also be disclosed. In this appeal, the Court considers challenges brought against the Directives by five groups representing state and local officers.

Directive 2020-5 applies to all law enforcement agencies in the State, including local police departments; Directive 2020-6 applies to the State Police and other agencies within the Department of Law and Public Safety (Department). Both Directives encompass all findings of major discipline after January 1, 2020. In addition, for the State Police and other agencies within the Department, officers subjected to major discipline dating back twenty years would be identified publicly. The Directives mark a sharp change in practice. Previously, the Attorney General fought to shield the identities of law enforcement officers disciplined for serious misconduct. Appellants and intervenors challenged the Directives on a number of grounds. The Appellate Division upheld the Directives against the parties’ facial challenge. 465 N.J. Super. 111, 128-29, 162 (App. Div. 2020).

This litigation shows the rift between the policies of Governor Murphy’s appointees at the Attorney General’s Office and your average police officer. Attorney General Grewal issued the Directives at issue. He has since been replaced by Acting Attorney General Bruck.