CHARLOTTE, N.C.--At a murder scene, you'll see their cameras behind the yellow crime scene tape. The production team, ITV Studios, working for the A&E show "the First 48" documents everything that Charlotte-Mecklenburg police detectives do in the first two days of a homicide investigation.
The crew has been filming in Charlotte since last year under a special one-year contract the show has signed with CMPD. The episodes have been airing on A&E for several months.
The question before Judge Eric Levinson in Charlotte this week is whether the footage that ITV Studios shoots could be considered "evidence" in the murder cases the Mecklenburg District Attorney has brought against the suspects involved in those murders.
"Under the contract they have unfettered access to everything," attorney Jeremy Smith said. "They’re acting basically hand in hand with the police department."
Smith represents Jonathan Fitzgerald, accused of the 1st degree murder of Oscar Chavez. Investigators believe Fitzgerald and his girlfriend stabbed Chavez during a heroin drug deal gone awry.
In his legal brief, Smith argues that "The First 48"'s agreement with CMPD makes it a "prosecutorial agency."
The legal team for ITV Studios dismisses that claim, asserting journalistic privilege. "ITV obtained its footage on its own behalf, to serve its own interests in creating a television series, not to further the police's interest in solving Mr. Chavez's murder," their brief reads.
ITV's attorneys also point out that their video is of no value to Mr. Fitzgerald, who, according to the brief, confessed on official police videotape.
Though the issue has been challenged in other states, no North Carolina court has ever heard such a case.
Smith has three clients suspected in murders filmed by "The First 48." Other local defense attorneys with similar cases also sat in on Friday's proceedings.
"It's troublesome that non-police personnel are allowed to act as police officers in crime scenes," Smith said, "And the rules that apply don’t apply to them."
Judge Levinson heard from witnesses included Chief Rodney Monroe Friday. He'll continue hearing arguments Thursday Feb. 3.