Recording Police Officers Goes to the Appellate Court

In the constantly advancing world of technology, it seems that almost everyone has access to its many forms. Smartphones are ubiquitous, and they are not just phones anymore. They are a camera, a video recorder, a music library, and much more. Most people have a smart devices on them almost at all times, since they are used for so many purposes. As a result, more and more people have been recording their interactions with police officers.

The Case of Turner v. Driver

This was the situation in the recent case of Turner v. Driver. The defendant, Phillip Turner, decided to record a Fort Worth police station from a public sidewalk across the street. Two Fort Worth police officers approached him and asked him for identification, to which Turner refused to identify himself. Officers handcuffed and briefly held Turner in the back of a patrol car before releasing him without charges. Turner sued, alleging violations of his Fourth Amendment right against unlawful arrest and detention and his First Amendment right of speech.

The trial court dismissed the case and granted the police officers qualified immunity from the suit, specifically ruling that Turner had failed to show that his First Amendment right to videotape police activity was clearly established. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court held that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.”  

The Court reasoned that “[t]he first Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  But “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” Furthermore, the Supreme Court has long recognized that the First Amendment protects film and likewise protects the act of making a film. In addition, the principles underlying the First Amendment support the particular right to film the police, since its purpose is to protect the free discussion of governmental affairs.

Justification Aside from the First Amendment

Outside the First Amendment issue, filming the police contributes to the public’s ability to hold the police accountable, ensure that police officers are not abusing their power, and make informed decisions about policy policy. Filming the police also frequently helps officers. For example, a citizen’s recording might corroborate a probable cause finding or might even exonerate an officer charged with wrongdoing.  

The United States Supreme Court has yet to rule on this issue. However, some other Circuit Courts have heard similar cases and agree with the Fifth Circuit’s decision here. The First and Eleventh Circuits have held that the First Amendment protects the rights of individuals to videotape police officers performing their duties.

If you have been convicted of a crime and a videotape is involved, please contact the attorneys at Shein & Brandenberg. Our team will help analyze the video in question to see if it can be used in some aspect towards your case. We will work to develop a strategic case plan to ensure that your rights are fully protected.