Daily News: Courthouse cameras violate constitutional rights, public defenders say


By Stephen Rex Brown
Jan 18, 2019

Public defenders have demanded the Department of Correction disable all surveillance cameras filming their first encounters with clients amid an ongoing case over whether the recordings violate the constitutional right to an attorney.

The letter from five public defender groups is the latest development in a long-running battle over cameras in the Staten Island courthouse. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that surveillance of attorneys meeting their clients before arraignment could have a “chilling effect.” The Appeals Court asked a judge to further consider the issue and ordered the cameras in Staten Island be disabled in the meantime.

But public defenders say the cameras are no longer limited to Staten Island. A call with city attorneys in August revealed that the Department of Correction has installed cameras “across the city,” including areas of Rikers Island where confidential conversations between an lawyers and inmates occur, according to the letter dated Jan. 10.

“All recordings must end pending a hearing where the recordings’ impact on confidential communication and therefore the right to effective counsel can be measured,” the Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders and other groups wrote in the joint letter.

In court papers, the city said cameras in the Staten Island courthouse are turned off. But a Law Department spokesman did not respond to a question about cameras in other locations around the city.

“The Department of Correction is committed to ensuring its facilities are safe while at the same time respecting detainees’ Sixth Amendment rights. We are reviewing the letter with DOC and will respond accordingly,” the spokesman said.