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Is it Legal to Videotape or Record Police?


8/24/2020

Many people are unsure of their rights in regard to videotaping or taking photos of police action. With the recent public scrutiny on police misconduct and brutality cases, it is imperative to know what the legalities are when it comes to recording or taking pictures of the police while they are on the job. If you believe you wrongly received criminal charges due to recording the police, contact a knowledgeable Philadelphia criminal defense attorney for help as soon as you can.

Your Constitutional Right to Take Audio and Video Recordings

In no uncertain terms, you have a constitutional right to take photos and videos of anything that is visible from a public space, including:

  • Federal buildings
  • Transportation facilities
  • Police and other government officials carrying out their duties of employment

It is important to note that Pennsylvania statutes do not allow audio recordings of what a person says to be made without that person’s permission if they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, this law does not apply to law enforcement officers who are carrying out their official duties in public.

Law enforcement officers may order citizens to stop taking pictures or recording videos in public places. Even worse, police officers may harass, detain, or arrest people who choose to use cameras or video recording devices while they are out in public. Such harassment, detainment, and arrests are illegal and unacceptable. If you have been mistreated by law enforcement officers while recording or taking pictures of their actions in public, an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer is ready to stand up for your constitutional rights. 

Recordings and Pictures on Private Property

In Pennsylvania, a private property owner has the right to decide if people can take videos or photographs while on their property. If a property owner asks you to stop or gives you specific conditions under which you can video or take a picture, you need to obey them. If you do not, you could be arrested for trespassing. 

Can the Police Order You to Stop Video Recordings?

Police or other law enforcement officers should not request or demand that you stop recording or taking pictures. More importantly, there are no circumstances under which it is legal for the police to delete your photos and videos. 

However, police are allowed to instruct individuals to stop participating in actions that interfere with law enforcement’s necessary operations. Most of the time, a judge trusts an officer’s judgment and will side with them. You are not in a position to determine what is interfering with a law enforcement officer’s job. If you are directed to step back or move away by the police, obey their instructions.

If a law enforcement officer threatens to arrest you if you continue to use your camera or video recorder, the best thing to do in most situations is to listen to them. Instead of risking an arrest, you should pursue other means of determining if their behavior is legal and, if not, what you can do about it. If you were arrested under these circumstances, reach out to a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney for help. 

Can a Police Officer Demand to See or Confiscate Your Pictures and Recordings?

In general, police officers do not have the legal authority to view or confiscate your video recordings or pictures without a warrant. If you do end up getting arrested, the police might try to look through your phone. However, it is crucial to remember that the police need search warrants to search the cell phones of people they arrest, as per the Supreme Court ruling in Riley v. California

The Supreme Court made their decision based on the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which states that people are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. According to the Court, a cell phone is covered by the 4th Amendment, as a phone often contains more personal information than does the phone owner’s residence. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to individuals and their cell phones. 

Unless the person being arrested gives their consent for the officers to look through their phone, the police cannot legally do so without a valid warrant. If you know or suspect that the police looked through your phone without a valid warrant, a determined Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer can help you seek justice.

Actions to Take if You are Stopped or Detained 

If you are stopped or detained for taking pictures or recording video of the police, how you handle the situation can impact the outcome. No matter what, be polite and do not physically resist a law enforcement officer. If you are stopped, ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says that you are not, this indicates that you are being detained by the police. The police are not allowed to detain anyone unless they have reasonable suspicion that you have, are in the process of, or are about to commit a crime. Unless you ask to leave, remaining with the officer is considered to be voluntary. 

If the officer detains you, politely tell them that you believe taking pictures or videos to be within your rights. Furthermore, tell them that you do not consent to the police going through or deleting anything on your phone or camera. Keep in mind that if they reach for your phone or tell you that you are under arrest, you should not resist. You do not want to receive a charge for resisting arrest. You should state once again that you do not consent to the search or seizure of your phone. When you can, call a Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer to determine your next steps.

Wimmer Criminal Defense Law: The Only Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney You Need

Knowing your rights to record or take pictures of police officers who are on duty is essential. If you believe your rights were violated, now is the time to act. We are available 24 hours a day. You can book your criminal charge case review with a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney by calling Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or using our private online contact form. The sooner you get in touch, the sooner you can count on a reliable defense through every step of the legal process.