Criminal defense lawyers need as much information as possible to best represent their clients. The police and prosecutors have great resources at their disposal when they try to convict our clients for supposed crimes. We need to at least match their resources and get favorable evidence into our hands quickly before that evidence disappears. One way we can do so is through the Open Records Act or Freedom of Information laws. Through the Open Records Act, lawyers can demand records and other materials that in the old days were impossible or nearly so to obtain. For instance, in DUI cases, after arrest, clients are booked into the local jail. Video of the jail book in process, fingerprinting, picture taking, etc., is recorded by multiple cameras at the jail and retained for a few days or weeks. After that, the video is erased. This video is something we can demand through the open records laws, well before the first court date. It is usually very helpful for our clients because it shows them appearing sober and acting normally, right after the arrest. This can counteract police claims that our clients appeared drunk or under the influence of drugs. The government’s routine destruction of such evidence during the regular course of business is one of the reasons that it is important to retain a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
People who work in government who refuse to turn over records and other materials to defense lawyers can be punished for committing a crime. That recently happened in the City of Atlanta where an assistant to the mayor refused to turn over records to a TV news reporter. The employee was arrested, went to trial, lost, and is now facing punishment for refusing to turn over records. This is very unusual. The Georgia Attorney General prosecuted the case against the city hall employee. Violation of the Open Records Act is a misdemeanor and can be punished with up to a year in jail. This made national news.