Everyone has seen viral videos of police altercations in which officers have tried to confiscate phones or demand that a person stops filming them. In a time where it seems like everything is being recorded and with the easy access to a portable camera in your pocket, you may be wondering if recording the police is legal. The short answer is, yes, absolutely. Let’s talk about why it is legal and some of the other legal circumstances that surround recording the police.
Recording the Police Is Protected by the First Amendment
In Texas, like the rest of the United States, the First Amendment of the Constitution prohibits any laws that restrict the freedom of speech, press, and assembly. You are afforded the right to record a police officer in a public place, so long as you do not interfere with their ability to do their job. Because the first amendment protects the actual photos/videos/media itself, the amendment must also protect the act of creating them.
If you find yourself being told to hand over your phone by a police officer, it is best to remain calm and remind him of your first amendment protections. If the officer threatens to arrest you for failure to comply, remember that you have this on recording and so does he. It is important to remember that you are protected but it is also imperative that you keep yourself out of harm’s way. It is better to get out of the situation unscathed and handle the situation legally after the fact than to stand your ground and risk any serious injury.
Your Phone, Your Property
If you ever find yourself in a situation where a police officer tries to confiscate your phone or tells you to delete a video while recording, remember that your phone is your property. Without a warrant, the fourth amendment protects you from illegal search and seizure. So, you are within your rights to refuse to delete any video and when you refuse to hand your phone to a police officer without a warrant. If you are ever in this situation, promptly remind the police officer of your fourth amendment protections and that you know that without a warrant, the officer has no right to confiscate your phone.
Recording the Police on Public Vs. Private Property
The only thing (besides impeding a police officer’s ability to do his job) that you really need to be aware of when recording the police is whether you are on public or private property. Recording the police is perfectly legal on public property, it is only when you are on private property that the situation can get sticky. If you are recording a police officer on private property, it then becomes the decision of the property owner whether you are trespassing or not. If they decide that you are, then you can be arrested and charged with trespassing on private property. So it is important to be aware of your surroundings so you do not end up in detainment for an avoidable mistake.
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