Police misconduct and violence toward civilians have come into the spotlight in the past few years and more people are aware of this problem. Much of this awareness is due to cell phones, and a majority of the population has the means to record police encounters and behavior while social media ensures it will be spread quickly. However, can you legally record police or is using your phone during a traffic stop or other interaction illegal? Can law enforcement officers stop you from recording encounters? Our criminal defense lawyers in Raleigh are sharing what you need to know to protect your rights and hold police accountable for their conduct.
Filming Activity in a Public Space
In North Carolina, you are legally allowed to film anything in a public space in which there is no expectation of privacy. This means you can film public areas including parks, sidewalks, police stations, and municipal buildings as well as retail and commercial properties. The only exceptions are changing rooms, restrooms, similar private areas where people may be changing or in a state of undress.
Wiretapping and Eavesdropping Laws
While there are cases in which it is illegal to record someone without their knowledge, recording police encounters does not fall under North Carolina’s wiretapping or eavesdropping laws. North Carolina has a “one-party consent” law related to recording someone or something with audio. This means you need to either be the person with whom the police are speaking or interacting or get consent from one other person in the recording. You can’t record secretly when you’re not part of the interaction.
For example, if you are stopped by the police and you press record on your phone, whether the police officer is aware or not, you are within your right to record and share this video. On the other hand, if you record a police officer stopping someone else, you need to make it clear you are recording or ask the other person if you may record.
Recording Police Is a Protected Right
There have been numerous cases across the United States of police officers attempting to detain or arrest someone recording or confiscate their phones. However, this is a violation of the First Amendment as a condition of free speech as seen in 2011 in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that recording police interactions in public spaces is a “clearly established right” for citizens and is protected by the First Amendment. Several similar cases have gone before the Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts which all rule that recording police is a First Amendment right.
Additionally, when a law enforcement officer attempts to detain someone or take their phone or camera, this is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, as this is a violation of an individual’s freedom from unlawful seizure.
What to Do When Recording Police Officers
If you are pulled over or stopped by police officers or you see someone else is stopped and choose to record the encounter, follow these guidelines to protect your rights and stay within the law:
- Ask for the name of the officer or their badge number;
- Do not interfere with an investigation or interaction;
- Move back or step back when told to do so;
- Be polite, calm, and respectful at all times;
- Do not physically resist an officer;
- You do not have to stop recording;
The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable search and seizure. Thus, they need a warrant to take or search your phone. If you are detained solely for filming another encounter, ask why you are detained and what crime you are suspected of committing.
Schedule a Free Case Review Today
While police officers put their lives on the line to serve and protect our cities and neighborhoods, misconduct and violence is not acceptable. If you choose to film a police encounter, this is your legal right to do so, and if you’ve been detained or arrested, we can help. Reach out to our criminal defense lawyers in Raleigh today for a free case consultation at (919) 845-6688 or fill out our form below to get started.