Could You Get Arrested for Recording Law Enforcement?

One of the biggest catalysts in the debate surrounding police shootings has been live videos and footage of police activity. Most recently, a Facebook Live Video was broadcasted of Minnesota police shooting Philando Castile. The video went viral and caused an uproar, as well as a discussion of issues including police relations and gun ownership.

Now, citizens are encouraged and allowed to record law enforcement activity if they believe the officer is doing something illegal or unethical. But no one wants to be recorded, and law enforcement officers may use intimidation or threats of arrest to get you to stop filming them. Citizens have even been arrested and charged for photographing the police. But in most of these cases, the charges were dropped.

In the event that you feel the need to record police activity, you should know your rights and be able to communicate these rights calmly to officers. Keep the following rules and policies in mind in case this ever happens to you.

Police Interference

Understand that citizen interference with law enforcement activity is illegal. If your recording is not letting an officer complete his or her duties, you may be arrested. However, if you are simply recording an officer and not physically interfering with his or her actions, you are acting completely within your rights.

Photography on Public Property

If you are on public property, you have every right to take photographs or record video content. Anything in plain view, including federal buildings and law enforcement officers, can be photographed or recorded.

However, private businesses, buildings, and spaces have the right to prohibit photography or video recording. Pay attention to any signs or warnings regarding photography and recording when you enter a space.

If you are trespassing on private property to record law enforcement activity, you may be arrested for trespassing, but not for photographing or recording.

Illegal Search and Seizure

Seizing Digital Devices and Recording Equipment

To prevent you from posting photographs or video content, an officer may try to confiscate your recording or mobile device. But police cannot search or seize these devices, even after you have been arrested, without a proper warrant.

They especially cannot seize or search your recording equipment if you are simply in a confrontation. You do not have to hand over any devices to law enforcement simply because an officer demands that you do so.

Quick Things to Remember If You Are Being Detained or Intimidated By Peace Officers

Let’s wrap this up with sentences and sound bites to remember in case law enforcement is trying to prevent you from legally recording an officer. Remember, you also have the right to refuse any questions that the police ask you.

  • Taking photographs does not constitute illegal or criminal activity and falls under our First Amendment rights.
  • It is legal to record video and take photographs in a public space.
  • It is a constitutionally protected right to document police activity.

Review your rights and rehearse these sentences in case you are in a confrontation with an officer. It is also legal to record the conversation you have between you and an officer in the event of a confrontation.

If an officer continues to use intimidation or arrests you, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Charges for photographing police in a public space can and should be dropped, so it is important to fight for your rights or the rights of a loved one with an experienced Denver defense attorney.

About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.