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Do You Have the Legal Right to Record Police?

Over the past couple years, there have been numerous incidents of alleged police misconduct that have gone viral due to recorded video from smartphones. But this brings up a good question: do you have the legal right to record video of your interactions with police officers?

In most cases involving this issue, courts have ruled that the First Amendment protects your right to record a police officer who is doing his or her job in a public place. A big exception came in February 2016, when a federal judge ruled the opposite in a departure from what has otherwise been the precedent.

However, it is important to note that there are some exceptions to your right to record police officers. These include the following:

  • Situations that would interfere with an officer: You may not record video of officers if doing so would somehow interfere with their ability to do their job. An example would be standing too close to officers while recording as they are attempting to arrest someone. You might be physically in the way of the officer, or the act of you recording the arrest could provoke the suspect or bystanders.
  • Situations that would violate wiretapping laws protecting officers: You must be careful that any audio recordings you take of police officers do not violate wiretapping or surveillance laws. Certain laws could prohibit you from recording officers without their knowledge or consent, even if they are performing their duties. These laws protect the privacy of citizens.
  • Situations in which recording would be a crime for another reason: Just because you have a right to record does not mean the act of recording itself does not violate another law. Depending on the way in which you record, you could be accused of stalking, harassment or disorderly conduct. Trespassing could be another issue if you enter onto private property without permission.

To learn more about your right to record video and/or audio of police interactions in Pennsylvania, speak with knowledgeable Reading criminal defense attorney David R. Eshelman.


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