For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 31

H

"

e was traveling from a source city" (i.e.,
any conceivable location in the U.S.). "We
were patrolling a high crime area" (i.e.,
every conceivable location in Allentown, Altoona,
Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Scranton,
etc.). When reading police reports or questioning
officers at a suppression hearing, we hear variations
of these answers over and over again as a police
officer cites the factors supporting their belief that,
under the totality of the circumstances, the officer
had "reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal
activity is afoot."
Indeed, here is the common scenario: driver is
pulled over for an innocuous (and often pretextual)
traffic violation, such as (a recent favorite) driving
through an inactive work zone without headlights.
From there, the officer purportedly develops
"reasonable suspicion" to detain and question
the driver. That reasonable suspicion morphs into
probable cause. The ensuing probable cause search
uncovers drugs and guns and the driver is arrested.
Driver files a motion to suppress, claiming that the
investigative detention was unlawful. Once the case
gets to a suppression hearing, the Commonwealth
relies upon the fact that the driver is supposedly
from a "source city" and he was traveling through a
"high-crime area" as factors supporting the officer's
reasonable suspicion belief that criminal activity
was afoot. The court almost unfailingly accepts
the officer's assertions about source cities and high
crime areas and finds that the driver's investigative
detention was supported by reasonable suspicion.
As defense attorneys, it is our duty to more
effectively challenge the foundation underlying
officers' assertions about "high-crime areas" and
"source cities." To that end, we must identify the
information and data (or lack thereof) that provide
the foundation for these assertions. Right-to-Know
(RTK) requests and subpoenas are two valuable
tools that can help us do so. This article will focus
specifically on RTK requests.

What is a RTK Request?
The purpose of the Right-to-Know (RTK)1 law is
to provide the public with access to information
about governmental bodies. While an RTK request
may seek information similar to that sought
through a specific discovery request, an important
difference is that the District Attorney's office is not
involved in the process. RTK requests can help us to

gain an understanding of how police officers are
trained to interpret the law and what to look for
while on duty.

The RTK Request Process
To file a RTK request, you start the process by
filling out the appropriate Office of Open Records
[OOR] form. The forms are available on the OOR
website. When making a request, you must follow
these three steps: first, determine which agency to
ask for the requested information; second, identify
that agency's open records officer; and third,
prepare and submit the request using the OOR
form.
When requesting records from a law
enforcement agency, typically each police
department or state police barracks should have a
designated agent for their open records requests.
Once you identify that person and you are ready
to complete the OOR form, be sure to indicate
what documents you are requesting and give
as much detail as possible. This detail can relate
to types of documents, timespan, or a specific
subject matter. Once complete, mail, fax, email, or
personally deliver the request to the appropriate
agency. The Pennsylvania State Police [PSP] in fact
has a website dedicated to their RTK requests.2
This website has all the contact information
needed to submit an OOR form.
Once submitted, the agency then has five
business days to do one of the following:
*	 grant the request;
*	 deny in total or in part, and include with the
denial an explanation of the specific legal
basis for doing so; or
*	 request a 30-day extension.3
If your request is denied, you have 15 days to
file an appeal to OOR. To do this, an OOR appeal
form, also found on its website, can be submitted.
Be as specific as possible when requesting
documents, to avoid being denied documents due
to vagueness.

Records to Request
A particularly useful purpose of an RTK request
is to gather data regarding certain "terms of art"
or "factors" police regularly testify to and rely on
during investigations. When officers begin their
direct examination from the prosecutor, they
Vol. 4, Issue 4

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For The Defense

31


https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/RTKL/HowToFile.cfm https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/RTKL/HowToFile.cfm https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/Appeals/AppealForm.cfm https://www.openrecords.pa.gov/Appeals/AppealForm.cfm

For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4

Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 1
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 2
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - Contents
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 4
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 5
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 6
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 7
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 8
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 9
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For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 11
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 12
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For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 15
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For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 18
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For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 26
For the Defense - Vol. 4, Issue 4 - 27
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