Recently, the trend of recording police making arrests or conducting traffic stops to see if officers do something embarrassing has become very popular. Many people have gained internet notoriety for these videos. Unfortunately, many people have also been arrested.
In general, it is technically legal to record police in a public place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, so long as you do not interfere with the lawful execution of any legal duty being performed by the officer. So long as you do not actively impede the duties of the police with your video, you probably could argue that you are within your first amendment rights. However, in reality, you can be arrested for many other actions associated with making in the video. The most common charge is obstruction of justice.
Obstruction Charges Because of Police Videos
While you may be able to record any conversation to which you are privy and actions of public servants, you can still be arrested for obstruction charges if you interrupt police activities. Unfortunately, the police are generally those who define whether or not a person is impeding justice. This means that if an officer has told you to turn off a camera and stop recording, not doing so risks an arrest for obstruction charges.
On the streets, police officers are people who get to make any and all initial determinations of what to permit and what not to permit. Police may feel threatened by a person with a camera in their faces, even if you mean no harm or genuinely just want to keep their actions in check. Sometimes officers can become overzealous in trying to control the situation, whether they have legal basis to do so or not. If you police ask you to stop doing an action, they may arrest you for obstruction of justice, and there is very little that you can do about it at the time.
That is not to say that the charges will necessarily lead to your conviction, but they will often cause you to spend a lot of time and money working out your defense. You also may have to spend a night held in jail. If charges are successful, you could even be sentenced to jail time. It is important to remember that with proper legal help that you probably can avoid serious long-term consequences, but this does not negate the hardship you will experience before this happens. It is also very rare that anyone can successfully sue police for obstruction charges if there is any evidence that you opposed their actions.
Examples of cases where people have been arrested for videotaping police after they have been asked to stop are too numerous to count. Varying causes have been cited. Sometimes officers claim that defendants were too close to the action, thus interrupting police procedure. Other times, it is for interfering, lying to police, or otherwise distracting officers trying to work. Obstruction charges cover a wide range of actions, so it is likely that they can prove at least some probable cause to arrest you if they have set their minds to it.
In the end, it is your decision if you want to record police. You have the right to do so in a polite and nonaggressive way. However, you should remember the risks when making your decision. If you are arrested, remember that you have the right to counsel. Call us immediately and we will help you fight the charges. Cincinnati criminal lawyer Brad Groene has years of experience defending our clients, and will be able to show that you mean to fight for your rights.