In order for the criminal justice system in America to work, police and prosecutors must do their jobs in an ethical and legal way. If an officer is acting lawfully and responsibly, why would he or she object to video recording the police?
Police officers, like anyone else, are probably very uncomfortable with being photographed or video recorded while at work. This being said, police officers are public servants, charged with performing official duties, and they have a responsibility to perform their jobs in a lawful way. Some police officers break the law and violate the civil rights of citizens and on the other hand, some defendants lie and falsely claim that officers have acted improperly or illegally. If every investigation was videotaped, there would be little doubt as to the credibility of an investigation or an officer’s observations of criminal activity. Despite the repeated use of video recordings being utilized as evidence to secure convictions, police organizations and unions strongly object to people photographing or video recording the police.
Constitutional Right Protected by the First Amendment
In two recent cases that were decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, the court made it clear that photographing and filming police officers in public is a constitutional right protected by the First Amendment. In the first case, a woman who was recording the police during a protest was restrained by police and forced to stop recording. In the second case, a man was arrested, prosecuted and convicted for filming police officers who were breaking up a house party.
In each of the cases, the United States District Court judges ruled against the man and women. The courts ruled that they were engaging in “conduct” and not “expressive conduct.” Essentially, the judge found that the act of photographing or videotaping is not, in and of itself, expressive so it is not protected by the First Amendment’s freedom of speech clause. The Federal Court of Appeals disagreed.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals found that the First Amendment protects photographs and video recordings and that protection would have little meaning if the constitution did not also protect the production or creation of the photographs or videos.
The appeals court went on to say how important the functions of the police are and that their role in the protection of the community is critical and irreplaceable; however, they are carrying out public functions and they have no alternative but to accept when bystanders are recording their actions. The court also noted that the recordings stand to benefit not just the citizens but also the officers themselves.
This decision by the 3rd circuit is critical to both the protection of civil liberties and also to the proper administration of justice. The defense lawyers with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have achieved dismissals, acquittals and charge reductions for countless clients over the past several decades based on audio and video recordings.
If you are charged with a felony or misdemeanor offense and you want the best possible legal representation, call LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form and an highly experienced and aggressive criminal defense lawyer will promptly contact you.