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When can recording the police on your phone land you in jail?

On Behalf of | Aug 22, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Since most everyone walks around with a video camera on them by way of their smartphone, recordings of people’s interactions with police can easily be shared online and with the media. This has certainly increased the scrutiny on how members of law enforcement interact with those they’re sworn to protect. 

People do have a right to record law enforcement officers who are doing their jobs in public. However, that right comes with a number of caveats. 

Say you’re at a bar one night when a fight breaks out. Police come in and break things up. Then they proceed to deal with a friend of yours who got involved in the melee. You think they’re being too rough, so you take out your phone and start recording. You can legally do that, but let’s look at a few things you cannot do.

You can’t obstruct police activity

If you get between an officer and someone they’re talking to, arresting or trying to subdue, you could be arrested for obstruction. You can’t hinder or endanger officers who are doing their job – or others – by recording an interaction. 

You can’t trespass on private property

Say you weren’t in that bar. What if you saw the front door to a home open and a police interaction that you found problematic? You can’t just walk in and start recording unless the owners allow you to do so. Doing so would be trespassing.

Basically, you can’t violate the law while recording a police interaction. That’s one reason why it’s typically best not to record your own interaction with police – especially if they’re trying to arrest you. That’s likely to get a charge of resisting arrest added to your other charge(s).

Can police take your phone or require you to delete the video?

Typically, an officer can’t legally seize your phone without a warrant. They also can’t demand that you delete any recordings or photos – nor can they. That’s considered destruction of evidence. If you end up under arrest, however, they’ll take your phone and you won’t have any control over what happens to it or anything on it.

If you’re facing charges because you tried to or did record a police interaction, it’s important to protect your rights and ensure that your side of the story is effectively presented. Having experienced legal guidance can help.