Can I Be Arrested for Filming the Police?

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In today’s digitally connected world, people are constantly sharing videos of virtually everything from their child’s school plays to funny moments with pets to a variety of “challenges” to raise money for charity. It is nearly impossible to go anywhere without seeing at least one person on some sort of device filming themselves or the things going around them. While making and sharing such videos are usually little more than a form of entertainment, things become much more serious when citizens attempt to film police officers as the officers carry out their duties. In many cases, those attempting to film the police have been threatened with arrest , and some have even been taken into custody for refusing to stop filming. If you have been arrested simply for filming the police in a public setting, there are some things that you should know about your rights.

A High-Profile Example

Early last year, an attorney in North Carolina was stopped by police while he was working his side job as an Uber driver. It seems that he had picked up a passenger from a known drug house, and the police stopped the vehicle to detain the attorney’s passenger. During the course of the stop, the driver began filming the police as they milled about his car deciding what to do next. In the video—which eventually went viral on social media and is currently available on YouTube—one of the officers can be seen and heard threatening to arrest the driver unless he stopped filming. The officer even claimed that there was a new law in North Carolina that prohibited the filming of the police. (There was not then and is not now such a law.)

The attorney did not stop recording, but he was never arrested. After the police conducted what could only be described as a questionable search of his vehicle, the driver and his passenger were allowed to go with no charges. The local sheriff’s department eventually acknowledged that its officer was incorrect and said that the officer had been counseled. The department also made a public announcement that encouraged the public to film officers to increase transparency and accountability.

Federal Court Decisions

Last summer also saw a ruling by the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals which held that Americans have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to film on-duty officers in public. The Third Circuit Court covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Since 2011, similar rulings have been handed down by the Circuit Courts of Appeals in the First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts. The Seventh Circuit Court includes Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana, and its ruling on filming the police was issued in 2012. These rulings cover exactly 25 states and about 60 percent of U.S. citizens. There have been no federal appeals court decisions that have gone the other direction on this issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to see such a case.

So, Could I Be Arrested Anyway?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes, you could be arrested anyway for filming the police. And it is possible for an officer to allege that you were obstructing him or her from carrying out his or her duties. If you were only filming, however, and not actually interfering, the charges against you are not likely to hold up — even if they are formally filed in the first place.

If you are dealing with a recent criminal arrest, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Will County right away. Attorney Jack L. Zaremba will fight to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the criminal justice process. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation today.