CaseGuard is pleased to announce that we added document redaction to CaseGuard Studio. The software is being used by both public records and investigative personnel, and document redaction was a request that both types of clients had been asking for. In marking the release of this powerful addition, we will discuss the varying purposes of document redaction, and how the need for this tool is expanding into a number of functions in law enforcement.
The Purpose of Document Redaction
The original purpose of document redaction has always been straightforward. Medical forms, government documents, tax audits, employee documents, and any other documents that have personally identifiable information, that are for one reason or another turned over to a third party. This can of course get tricky in a legal situation, where documents of this nature are routinely provided through the discovery process. As such, court rules have shaped quite a bit of the policy and procedures throughout government agencies, and medical providers as to how and what they redact.
The basic premise is that document redaction is intended to protect people. But over time, the principles of redaction have now been applied to trade secrets, intellectual property, private investment, potential strategy, and a host of other details. It’s clear that in the modern world, things are held in the same value as the identifying details of people. This paradigm shift has a significant impact on how government redacts documents, particularly when it comes to law enforcement-oriented operations.
Criminal Case Discovery
When it comes to discovery, we know that documents play a role in every criminal case, and each case has unique documents, and each requires analysis for redaction. Whether it’s personally identifiable information, information that a confidential informant provides that identifies their relationships with a target, investigative details that were not made public, and are not being used by counsel, and investigative techniques that are not germane to prosecution are just a few of the considerations during discovery.
A defense attorney may argue the validity of investigative techniques. And judges will side with their arguments, over a prosecutors’ nearly every time. It’s important to have policy in place that is supported by law, and understand that not every investigative detail can be protected. Most are going to be part of discovery, by virtue of the fact that they relate to the case at hand.
Third Party Records Request
A recurring theme is disinterested third parties making blanket requests for everything a law enforcement agency has over a specific period of time. This could be anything from video, case reports, call for service logs, and the list goes on. There’s good reason to redact these documents to a greater degree than those documents going to court. There may be specific details the agency does not want made available to the general public at the time of request. There are of course identities to protect, personal details, even documented locations may need redacting, as their presence may establish the involvement of certain parties.
Many third parties will want to argue about receiving redacted copies, but if your agency has made a policy of concealing investigative knowledge from the general public, there’s not going to be a lot the requester can argue, especially to a judge.
While law enforcement may be hesitant to consider this, there is plenty of reason to redact documents heading into civil proceedings. Civil proceedings are not all-encompassing of a person, or thing. Instead, they are specific to an event. As an example, let’s say an officer stands accused of excessive force in a civil lawsuit. Sure, that officer’s training history, their knowledge of use of force policy, and their past conduct could all be part of discovery. What would likely not be part of discovery is how they initiated the event that led to the force incident, or what techniques they applied to investigate the situation. A plaintiff’s attorney can argue for unredacted documents all they want, but unless they can prove how those specific items would apply to their lawsuit, redacting the items in question is perfectly fine. We do advise reviewing each scenario with your agency counsel, obviously not every situation can be painted broadly.
Document redaction capabilities provide law enforcement with a tool that makes their workloads easier to navigate. But, it also means that the demands placed on them are becoming specific, and that means the job is evolving. Having tools to accomplish the multitude of new tasks is an important first step it staying ahead of the curve.
Being able to redact audio, images, videos, and documents, and enhance the same, all in one software is a major win for law enforcement as the need for dealing with record requests, and solving cases come together over the use of redaction and enhancement of digital evidence.
Be safe out there!