Most courts agree that under the First Amendment, you have the right to record police officers in public as they perform their duties, including pulling you over. However, it would be best if you didn’t record officers secretly or in a way that interferes with their duties.
If the police retaliate against you, or you believe they have overstepped their authority and unlawfully pulled you over and charged you with a crime, a criminal defense attorney in Washington may be able to help you out. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may or may not have a valid lawsuit against them.
However, it is essential that your rights are protected and that you don’t let anyone take them for granted. Recording police officers while they pull you over isn’t illegal. However, it might result in some unforeseen complications. Here is what you should consider.
Recording Police Officers
Generally, recording police officers while they do their duties is lawful. However, the circumstances and details will vary from state to state, as regional police departments have their own policy on this issue.
For example, police officers wearing body cameras should act neutrally if you also start recording. In some cases, some officers might be glad to have further proof of what happened and how the situation unfolded.
However, you might also encounter a police officer who isn’t aware of your rights or might not care. This may result in your arrest or having your phone seized.
You have the right to record in your vehicle or in public spaces. However, if the location where you are present doesn’t allow cameras, then things can get complicated. If you are in such a location, police officers can tell you to legally stop recording or destroy what you have saved on your camera. If the actions mentioned above occur, the best thing to do is contact an attorney immediately.
Don’t Record Covertly
How you behave and the way that you record the police officer pulling you over can also affect your case. You shouldn’t record police officers secretly, instead you should do so in an obvious way.
This might even help de-escalate the situation, which is what should be everyone’s goal. Recording covertly might be misinterpreted by local laws or officers. For example, if you were speeding and the cops pulled you over, recording them secretly might be a huge mistake.
Since chasing someone implies that they may have something to hide, the police officers might mistake your camera for a gun or other weapon. Even if you weren’t speeding and the police pull you over, it can result in tragic consequences if they see that you are trying to hide something.
The more you make officers feel uncomfortable, the higher the chances a situation might become unstable.
Give Notice That You are Recording
If we look at Washington’s state law RCW 9.73.030, the real issue when recording a police officer isn’t about filming them, but instead giving them notice that you are recording.
In this case, the best way to film a cop when they pull you over is to start your conversation by giving them notice by saying ” I am filming this conversation,” or something similar. If you have a dashcam installed in your vehicle, you should also inform police officers before proceeding with other formalities.
If there are other passengers in your vehicle, make sure you have their consent. If you later need to use that recording for your case, divulging private communication without consent can interfere with RCW 9.73.030 and cause some more significant issues in your defense case.
Consult with your lawyer about divulging the record if you have vital information that shows police misconduct or abuse. Let them look and inform them of all parties involved and how the situation was handled.
In contrast, you can also ask the police officer if you can record; if they don’t consent, they need to specify a clear reason why you can’t. Remember their reasoning clearly, because if the situation escalates and you need to file a lawsuit, you will need to inform your lawyer why the police officer denied your request. Depending on their reasoning, and the skills of your attorney, you might also use this later on in your case.
Retaliation For Recording
If the police retaliate against you for recording them, several factors will be considered in a lawsuit, such as:
- The way you behaved while recording them. Police officers might retaliate against you because you secretly filmed them and they mistook your actions for something else, e.g., pulling out a weapon
- Whether you recorded them in an authorized or unauthorized location or interfered in with them in some way
- If the police officers claim that you committed other crimes while you are recording
Under federal law 42 U.S.C 1983, you can sue the police officers for violating your civil rights. Your claim can involve unlawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment and your right to record under the First Amendment.
You can also take legal action if your recording devices were unlawfully seized or the officer did something that infringed on your right to record. To boost the validity of your claim, consider contacting a criminal defense or civil rights lawyer.
Suppose the police want to temporarily seize your recording device under the pretext that it may contain evidence of a crime. In that case, they need a search warrant to go through your device. Consider giving them a copy, but ensure you have the original record stored elsewhere. Officers who delete your audio or video recording violate the First Amendment and other ethical policing standards.
Breaking Other Laws While Recording
Although you have the right to record police officers if they pull you over, it doesn’t give you the right to break other laws. Depending on the circumstances, you may face allegations that you have committed one or more of the following actions:
- Stalking or trespassing
- Disorderly conduct
This is why you must behave appropriately and respectfully while police officers are doing their duty. If you disrespectfully record them while they pull you over, such as bringing the camera to their faces or genitals, you can be charged with harassment, disorderly conduct, stalking, or other allegations.
Speak With a Qualified Attorney
A good lawyer can give you legal advice and explain your jurisdiction’s laws so that you can protect your rights. If you were pulled over and you recorded police officers in Washington, resulting in some other unpleasant events or legal complications, consider contacting an attorney immediately.