I am contemplating getting some feelers out there for my next documentary project. The film will cover an unsolved case involving a serial killer from the late 1980s. The case was recently re-opened by the DA's office. I've never tackled a subject like this and was curious about something. If by some chance this new film brings new evidence to light, can law enforcement officials demand that I turn over any of my raw footage?
Main article: The Central Park Five
Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Burns' daughter Sarah Burns premiered The Central Park Five, a documentary film about the case, at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. In the film, the filmmakers compare the case to the 1931 rape case of the Scottsboro Boys, which eventually led to a Supreme Court ruling on the racial makeup of juries. The film was released in the United States in November 2012. On September 12, 2012, attorneys for New York City subpoenaed the production company for access to the original footage in connection with its defense of the federal lawsuit brought by some of the convicted youths against the city. Celeste Koeleveld, the city's executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, justified the subpoena on the grounds that the film had "crossed the line from journalism to advocacy" for the wrongly convicted men.
IANAL, however, the question would seem to be if what you are thinking about shooting is covered by the "shield law" for journalists in your state. If this is about the drug users thing you were musing about earlier, I'm going to advise erring on the side of caution: you are not "accredited media"; that is, a licensed newspaper, radio or TV reporter working for a recognized media outlet. There's a huge gray area today regarding bloggers and "citizen journalists" and just how much protection they have, compared to pro journalists, and worse, the grayness varies state by state. Even if you end up justified, you are potentially exposing yourself to massive legal battles you can't afford to fight.
You're going to do whatever your heart wants, I know. If you shoot people using, it might be prudent to use live, on-site tools to mask their voice and face, or to shoot in such a way that you never capture identifiable personal details in the first place. Then if it does get seized, your sources remain protected. That doesn't protect YOU from charges of "Aiding and abetting" a felony, however.
Think really hard about what the actual story is that you want to tell, and see if there isn't a way to tell it that's safe for you and the people you want to speak for. You're a fighter, but battling LEO's is a losing game generally, even when you "win". Don't rely on a legal loophole to solve this one. Get creative instead.
As far as what happens if you uncover new evidence in a cold case... well, I'd think you'd have a duty to report it. They could come at you for evidence tampering or witholding, and you don't look like you have any shield law covering you on that, any more than if you weren't using a camera, but just talking to a witness who suddenly confessed.
This is also a great reminder to work through a company. I don't know what your situation is Aaron, but it's always good to operate through a company. I know here in Arizona it is simple to set up an LLC to give you some more protection in certain areas.