Constitutional Law

Can Citizens Use Cellphones to Record Cops? Joining 1st Circuit, Oregon Appeals Court Says Yes


Arrests of individuals who record police as they are being questioned have been much in the news lately.

Among the latest to be criminally charged is a Florida man is being held in the Palm Beach County Jail in lieu of $4,500 bail for allegedly recording officers on his iPhone after a traffic stop. Carl Paul, 21, of Pompano Beach, who was described by arresting officers as “belligerent,” is charged with illegal interception of communication for violating the state’s two-party consent law with his claimed recording, reports the Palm Beach Post.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Oregon Court of Appeals held last week that a 33-year-old man’s criminal conviction for doing the same thing should be reversed, reports the Oregonian.

Because a Eugene police officer had told Shane Michael Neff that he was being recorded on the patrol car’s camera, there was no need for Neff to announce to the officer that he was using his cellphone to document the encounter the court held in an Oct. 26 opinion (PDF).

“It’s about whether people should have the right to record their public servants,” said attorney Bronson James of Portland, who handled Neff’s appeal. “The whole issue is bubbling to the fore. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some legislation at the next legislative session about it.”

In Boston, a lawyer arrested for filming police on his cellphone as they arrested someone else won a federal appeals court victory earlier this year concerning his right to bring a false arrest suit. (Criminal charges against Simon Glik were eventually dropped, and his civil suit against the police is ongoing.)

The ruling in August by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Glik’s case is the first by a federal appeals court to recognize a clear First Amendment right to record police, recounts the Recorder.

An American Civil Liberties Union press release about the 1st Circuit ruling provides further details.

A Chicago woman was acquitted In August, after a jury trial, on felony eavesdropping charges she was slapped with after recording internal affairs officers who, she says, were trying to talk her out of filing a sexual harassment complaint against a cop, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “‘Secret’ Videos of Public Police Work Can Be Considered Criminal”

ABAJournal.com: “15 Years for Recording a Talk with Cops? Woman Avoids Prison with Acquittal”

Law Technology News: “1st Circuit Rules Videotaping Police Is Protected Speech”

St. Louis Beacon: “Watch the police, but don’t record them in Illinois”

Spartanburg Herald Journal: “New tool for police, the video camera, and new legal issues to go with it”

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