The presence of a camera and video recorder in nearly every Texans’ pocket has granted new relevance to questions about whether citizens have the right to photograph law enforcement officers in action.
Despite orders, threats and intimidation by some law enforcement personnel, it is important for citizens to know they do have the right to photograph and videotape Texas police officers in most cases. Given the plethora of police videos available on YouTube and shared through mainstream news media, this should not come as a surprise.
But what is a citizen to do when told to stop taking photos or video and threatened with arrest, or worse? The answer is to know the rules, follow them, and stand up for yourself. If you are arrested for legally exercising your rights in the Dallas, Texas, area, contact a Kraft & Associates criminal defense attorney as soon as you are able.
What to Know Before Recording Police on Your Phone
You have the right in America to photograph anything or anyone plainly visible in a public space. This includes people like the police as they act or interact with other people.
However, you do not have unlimited rights. If by photographing or filming the police, you impede the officers or other public officials as they perform their jobs, then you could be arrested under Texas Penal Code 38.15.
The law states:
“A person commits an offense if the person with criminal negligence interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with . . . a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law.”
The offense, which is a Class B misdemeanor, requires some physical action, not just speech. There are also exceptions for acting in an emergency or imminent danger of serious bodily injury or property damage.
But a police officer may order you to quit photographing law enforcement activity if you are interfering. In most cases, an officer will directly order you to stop the interfering activity — get out of the way, stop touching / moving objects at a crime scene.
It is important to remember that your right to photograph police activity does not allow you to break the law, such as by trespassing.
On private property, the property owner sets the rules. You do not necessarily have the right to take photos on private property without permission. The property owner may order you to quit photographing from their property and/or to leave their property. If you do not comply, you may be arrested for trespassing. Any photos or video you obtain could later be ruled illegally obtained and not allowed as evidence in court, if that is an objective for recording police.
When Police Object to Legal Filming
In the heat of an uncertain and perhaps potentially violent situation, police and regular citizens alike can act incorrectly.
In short, it is not unusual for Texas police to demand that citizens stop photographing them and/or to attempt to confiscate their phones or cameras. Sometimes, an innocent person may be detained, verbally abused and threatened with arrest. In most cases, a police officer may not confiscate or demand to view your photographs or video without a warrant.
If you are arrested for a crime – let’s stay with trespassing as an example – police have more leeway for seizing and looking at the contents of your phone. Particularly if police say that they had reason to believe your phone contained evidence of another crime, courts will likely back the police who have looked through your photos. However, police may not delete your photographs or video – your property – under any circumstances.
If you are threatened by police for taking photos or video, your best approach is to remain calm. Yes, this is sometimes easier said than done. But if you can remain calm, you will likely not further incite the police officer toward an arrest or violence.
The Texas ACLU suggests that, if you are stopped or detained for taking photographs:
- Remain polite and never physically resist a police officer.
- Ask, “Am I free to go?” Until you ask, you are considered to have voluntarily stopped at the police’s request. If you are told you may go, do so. Put some reasonable distance between yourself and the police. If a police officer says you are not free to leave, you have been arrested. This requires reasonable suspicion that you are committing, have committed or are about to commit a crime.
- If detained by police, ask what crime you are suspected of committing. If the police officer mentions photography, say politely that you believe you are on public property and that taking photographs of public scenes is your right under the First Amendment.
- If formally arrested by police on any charge, ask to speak to an attorney. At this point, it is imperative that you otherwise exercise your right to remain silent and decline to answer questions. Tell police that you mean to cooperate but must speak to an attorney first. Then, sit tight until you are allowed to phone a lawyer and your attorney arrives to counsel you.
Contact Kraft & Associates P.C., Experienced Defense Team in Dallas
You have the right to take photos and video in public places in Texas. If you have been arrested for doing so or have had your phone, camera, etc., confiscated in North Texas, contact the defense attorneys at Kraft & Associates, Attorneys at Law,P.C., in Dallas for experienced legal representation as soon as possible.
We can promptly assist and advise you and protect your rights as we work to obtain the best possible legal outcome available to you. Upon being arrested for suspicion of any crime, remain silent and contact us as soon as you are able. Call on the Dallas Defense Team.