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Am I Allowed to Record the Police?

There is no doubt that things are very tense in the St. Louis area regarding citizens and law enforcement. With all of the high-profile events occurring, clashes between the St. Louis Police Department and others are increasingly common. One of the ways that many citizens have chosen to combat these tensions is by recording police interactions with other people as a reaction to allegations of police brutality and abuse. While recording can be a great way to determine whether or not police acted lawfully during the arrest, there are also questions regarding the legality of these videos and what can happen if you are arrested for recording police.

When You Can & Can’t Record Law Enforcement

The general legal premise for recording police is that as long as your recording does not interfere with the officer’s job, it is not illegal. Therefore, openly recording police performing their job in public is legal. The First Amendment guarantees this right since you have the right to freely discuss the government and through freedom of the press. However, it can be illegal to record the police in a few other instances.

Recording the police may face resistance when:

  1. Recording interferes with the officer’s job: Recording can actually be considered to be obstruction of justice if the recording is affecting their duties. Examples can include standing too close to the officer or promoting bystanders to become hostile.
  2. Another crime is committed while recording: As long as no other laws have been broken, you have the right to record. If you must trespass to record, the crime of trespassing supersedes the right to record.
  3. You are recording without the officer’s consent: Actions that occur out of the public eye are not considered to be legally recorded since the right to privacy trumps the right to record. Any recordings must be public and not hidden.

If a police officer arrests you for recording them in public, they may be breaking the law and violating your First Amendment rights. However, the courts generally side with the police when it comes to making arrests for recording. Police can be held liable if it’s been clearly established that you are recording and that you have the right to record them at that time. Since this is not clear, many public officials have immunity when it comes to their performance in an official capacity.

Police officers are meant to be knowledgeable of and uphold the law, including your right to film and record them in the regular course of their jobs. If you have been arrested for recording police, it would be in your best interests to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Millikan Wright, LLC, we know that your rights are important- and we will stop at nothing to ensure that they are upheld. Contact us now to speak with someone that can help.

Categories: Criminal Defense

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