The Disclosure of Police Misconduct Records (Part 3)

by | Dec 2, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: The Court does not find merit in the bulk of the remaining challenges but explains that one claim requires more careful attention: Officers subjected to major discipline for the past twenty years say they were promised that their names would not be released, and that they relied on that promise in resolving disciplinary accusations. In essence, they ask the State to stand by promises they claim were made throughout the prior twenty years. To resolve that serious issue, a judge will need to hear and evaluate testimony and decide if the elements of the doctrine of promissory estoppel have been met for disciplinary matters settled before the Directives were announced. The Court offers guidance for that process and, in a separate order, designates a single Judge of the Superior Court to conduct the hearing described in section VI.B of the opinion. The identities of officers subject to major discipline since the Directives were issued in June 2020 may be disclosed; going forward, future disciplinary sanctions can be disclosed in the same manner.

The Attorney General has broad authority over criminal justice matters, including “the general supervision of criminal justice,” N.J.S.A. 52:17B-98, and the power to “adopt rules and regulations for the efficient conduct of the work and general administration of the Department, its officers and employees,” N.J.S.A. 52:17B-4(d). Over the years, multiple Attorneys General have exercised that power to establish policies for the internal affairs review process through the issuance of Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures manuals (IAPPs). The first IAPP, in 1991, established a comprehensive set of procedures to address allegations of officer misconduct. Five years later, the Legislature directed every law enforcement agency in the State to adopt guidelines consistent with the IAPP. N.J.S.A. 40A:14-181. Since 1991, each iteration of the IAPP has provided that the progress of investigations and contents of case files were confidential but could be released in limited circumstances.

The Court’s decision leaves many open questions concerning the Directives. One such question is who will be responsible for drafting the summary of the disclosed conduct underlying the major discipline. Another is what details are required to be revealed in the summary.