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National Crime Victim Law Institute

United States v. Dixon, --- F. Supp. 3d ---, No. 1:18-cr-00358 (TNM), 2019 WL 498805 (D.D.C. Feb. 8, 2019)

March 14, 2019

To expedite discovery and protect a robbery victim’s rights to privacy and safety, the government moved for a protective order that would limit the viewing, use, dissemination, and post-litigation retention of police body-worn camera (BWC) material.  The court began its consideration of the motion by noting that the government had the burden of showing that there was good cause for issuance of the order.  To make its good cause determination, the court considered whether: (1) disclosure of the materials in question would pose a hazard to others; (2) the protective order would prejudice defendant; and (3) the public’s interest in disclosure outweighed the possible harm.  When balancing these considerations, the court also took into account the nature and circumstances of the crime and defendant’s criminal history.  In conducting its analysis, the court noted that the BWC material displayed the victim’s identity and face, and that such material frequently included personal identifying information, such as names, driver’s license numbers, personal phone numbers and home addresses.  The court recognized that access to such private data raises serious privacy and safety concerns for crime victims.  It noted that these concerns were reflected in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771, which guarantees crime victims the right “to be reasonably protected from the accused” and “to be treated with fairness and with respect for [their] dignity and privacy.”  Under the CVRA, courts have an obligation to ensure that the victim is afforded these rights.  Beyond this statutory requirement, courts have a general obligation to consider the safety of crime victims and witnesses.  The court found that these obligations weighed strongly in favor of the issuance of a protective order.  As the court explained, “[t]he immediate aftermath of a violent crime is a traumatic and vulnerable time for a victim. Unfettered release of the footage capturing those moments would raise significant privacy concerns. And [defendant’s] purported conduct raises safety concerns that also justify protecting the BWC material.”  The court found that defendant’s criminal history—which included multiple convictions, one of which was for armed robbery—weighed in favor of issuing the protective order.  It also concluded that defendant’s claim of prejudice was unpersuasive and that issuance of the protective order would not harm any public interest in the BWC material.  For these reasons, the court granted the motion for a protective order, while also providing that defendant could seek modification of the order once he evaluated the BWC material.