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Do You Have a Right to Video or Photograph Police in Public Places?

Jul 29 2015, by Sean Hessler in Legal Blog, Police Brutality

Contentions between law enforcement and the American public are at an all-time high. Over the last few years, videos and photographs of police brutality or excessive force have been captured at an alarming rate.

With today’s technology, most people walk around every day with a high quality camera and video recorder in their pocket. This has led to more and more opportunities to capture and publicize interactions between police and citizens. Many of these interactions cast an unfortunate and unflattering light on the officers whose job it is to protect the public, not intimidate.

Some people believe that allowing people to film police officers on the job is dangerous. Those arguing against the right to film said that it would “discourage civilians from speaking candidly to officers and could cause problems securing crime scenes or conducting sensitive investigations.” Even so, an anti-recording law in Illinois was recently held unconstitutional when used against people who audio taped police officers.

The anti-eavesdropping statute carried potentially serious consequences for violators. Offenders could be convicted of a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison for recording a law enforcement officer while on duty in a public place. A federal appeals court found that this law violated free speech rights when it was used against civilians for recording police officers. The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, which leaves the appeals court’s decision binding.

This is an important decision for today’s world of advancing technology and rapidly spreading information. It gives the public a voice by allowing them to look at and comment on police activity in a way that has never before been possible, and respects this country’s cornerstone free speech and press rights.

Hopefully, if the courts keep protecting the rights of civilians to monitor the activities of on duty public servants, the world can eventually be free of police brutality. Without this check on the police power, some officers unfortunately take advantage of it. This reality has proven to be deadly for some unarmed civilians, which is a cost that is much too high to pay.

If you feel you’re being unlawfully harassed by a law enforcement officer, stay calm. Be as polite and courteous as possible. Contact an Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to discuss the circumstances of your incident. You have constitutional rights as an American citizen, and even law enforcement must uphold them.

The outcome of an individual case depends on a variety of factors unique to that case. Case results do not guarantee or predict a similar result in any similar or future case.