Saturday, November 28, 2015 18:21

Can You Video Tape the Police? Should You Video Tape the Police?

video camera

Can You Video Tape the Police? Should You Video Tape the Police?

These are two very different questions.  Like many situations, particularly in the criminal law arena, just because you have a legal right to do something doesn’t mean you should.  When it comes to video taping the police, this concept is particularly relevant—and a woman from Rochester, New York can attest to this fact.  In that specific case, the woman made the choice to exercise her rights to video tape the police performing a traffic stop on the street in front of her house. As a result, the police arrested her.  Ultimately, the charges were dismissed, but the woman says she would do it again.  You can read about this incident here.  You can watch the video here:

So let’s talk about the first question: can you video tape the police in Florida*?  The short answer is generally yes, if you are in a public place where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and you are not interfering with the lawful execution of any legal duty being performed by the officer.

The second question is less about the law and more about principle: should you video tape the police?  That is really a personal question that only you can answer. While you may have the right to video tape if otherwise in compliance with the law, it does not mean that an officer will not arrest you and you will have to spend a night in jail if you do.  Yes, the charges should get dismissed, but you may have to spend a night in the slammer and deal with the hassle and cost of dealing with the matter. And no, you probably won’t be able to successfully sue the police.

Typically, there are two general categories of laws that have been used in recent times as a basis to arrest someone for video taping police: obstruction of justice/resisting an officer laws and wiretapping laws.  Wiretapping laws have been fought on the basis that such laws generally don’t apply when there is no reasonable expectation of privacy—which is often the case in an arrest situation.  The obstruction of justice/resisting an officer laws are more challenging due to the subjectivity of the law:

Florida Statutes §843.02 basically says that whoever shall resist, obstruct, or oppose any officer in the execution of legal process or in the lawful execution of any legal duty, without offering or doing violence to the person of the officer, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.  (Please note that “officer” as used in this statute is very broadly defined).  police

There are far too many cases on this law to mention here regarding examples of how this law has been applied.  Regardless, you have to remember that on the front line of the streets, the officer is the first point of contact and the one who gets to make all of the initial determinations of what is permitted and what isn’t. Given the realistic dangers that police face on the streets, it is not surprising that some can be overzealous in trying to control the situation—even when there isn’t a legal basis to do so.

The bottom line is that this decision is up to you.  Many instances of police abuse have been revealed in recent years due to people video taping their interactions or the interactions of others with law enforcement. Of course, many people have also been arrested or had their phones or cameras confiscated or destroyed. If you decide to video tape, at the very least, be respectful to the officer, make sure to stay far out of the way (for your safety and the safety of the officer), and don’t let principle stand in the way of common sense.

If you have been arrested for video taping the police or for taking pictures in or of a public place, please contact me so that we can discuss your legal options and protect your rights. Too often, even without a strong legal basis, charges don’t get dropped very easily.  By having someone who can represent your side of the story, you enhance your ability to dispute the charge. In addition, if you previously been arrested under such circumstances, but the charges were dropped or formal charges were never filed, the arrest may still appear on your record.  Please contact me today, so we can discuss if sealing or expunging your record is an option for you.

*The laws of different states vary, so if you are looking information about a state other than Florida, please check the laws or consult with an attorney licensed to practice in that state.

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