Almost everyone knows they have a right to record police interactions with members of the public. We’ve all seen videos of disturbing and even criminal behavior by officers that might have gone unaddressed if it hadn’t been for onlookers taking out their phones and recording the scene.
The right to record police when they’re doing their job in public is protected by the First Amendment. However, there’s an important caveat. You can’t break any laws as you’re filming them.
What actions could get you arrested?
You can’t obstruct police activity. You can stand back and record what is happening. However, if you get between an officer and someone they’re trying to arrest or question, you could be charged with obstruction and find yourself under arrest. That’s why trying to record your own arrest could be problematic. You also can’t trespass on private property.
What if you’re doing nothing wrong and not interfering with police activity? If you’re told to stop recording or hand over your phone, you can firmly but politely assert your rights. Becoming argumentative or combative could land you under arrest.
Can police require you to delete the video?
Officers can’t legally seize a person’s phone without a warrant, and they can’t require someone to delete videos or photos. That could be considered destruction of evidence. That doesn’t mean they won’t try.
If authorities really need something that’s on a phone, they can go through the proper legal channels to obtain it. It’s worth noting that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has an app you can put on your phone that will automatically send any recordings made using it to the organization.
Most police officers have become used to the fact that their interactions with the public may be taped and have had training in how to deal with that. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every officer – especially in the midst of a heated confrontation with a suspect – will respect a person’s First Amendment rights to record them. They may in that moment believe that someone is obstructing or resisting them even if they aren’t.
If you or a loved one is facing charges related to obstructing or resisting a law enforcement officer, it’s wise to seek experienced legal guidance. Even if you feel they’re completely unwarranted, these charges need to be taken seriously,