A mother was arrested for videotaping law enforcement in 2009. Many people who heard about the case ultimately inquired whether it was legal to record law enforcement. While recording law enforcement might reveal police misconduct, it could also lead to you being arrested. A divided Florida appellate court later upheld the arrest of a woman who recorded law enforcement officers outside of a theater.
This influential decision came during a period of blossoming social consciousness for the country following several questionable encounters with law enforcement that were recorded by Black Americans. The case also leaves open the issue of whether an individual who recorded George Floyd’s murder could be arrested.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
An appellate court determined that police had the authority to arrest a young mother who recorded them during an interaction with her young son in 2009. The judge in this case wrote that the woman had obstructed the investigation into her son’s interaction as well as the processing of her son’s detention. In sworn testimony, the woman stated that she brought a digital camera to pick up her son and hoped it would prevent the police from lying about what happened.
The woman hoped that the camera would work to ensure that everyone acted honestly and truthfully. Instead, she ended up in a confrontation in the parking lot. Law enforcement reports that they gave repeated orders for the woman to stop using her camera without the police’s permission because she was interrupting an investigation into a teen who allegedly snuck into the theater.
Appellate court judges did not address issues about the video recording. The judges noted that law enforcement had probable cause to arrest the woman based on the obstruction charge. In a lengthy dissent, a judge in the case wrote that he had done nothing wrong and that the police should have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public places. The judge also wrote that obstructing cops from view would mean everyone who pulls out to respond to a police encounter is committing a criminal offense.
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The George Floyd Video Footage
Similar issues concerning the recording of police conduct arose over the last year in the much-publicized George Floyd case. It was a bystander’s smartphone video footage that recorded George Floyd as he was pinned to the ground by Derek Chauvin and subsequently killed. The bystander did not break any laws regarding law enforcement and later posted that she had no regrets. Chauvin was subsequently convicted of second-degree unintentional murder as well as second-degree manslaughter.
The Value of These Interactions
Citizens who support recording law enforcement often argue that without citizens recording law enforcement activity, there would be no method to hold the police accountable in these situations. Instead, evidence would be restricted to the statements of citizens against those of the police. For this reason, federal courts throughout the country have recognized the constitutional right of the public to record police stops, which prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation allowing people in New York to record police activity under the New Yorker’s Right to Monitor Act (as long as you don’t interfere with the officers work). If you feel a need to record, use your best judgement, be courteous and record from a distance.