Super Lawyers
Million Dollar Advocates Forum
Justia Lawyer Rating
North Carolina Advocates for Justice

Can I film the police?

Criminal Lawyers While no one ever tries to get pulled over by the police, it can happen. There has been an incredible increase in the number of news stories concerning police misconduct.

You may feel compelled to record the police.

It makes sense to want to protect yourself and your rights by filming the police when they’re dealing with you. But first, you must understand and know the NC criminal laws.

Here’s what you need to know if you want to film police.

The Laws Aren’t the Same Across the United States

Currently, 38 states allow their citizens to film police. As long as no one interferes with their work.

However, the police might still harass or detain you. They might confiscate your camera. In some cases, they may even arrest you for obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors in NC.

But they can’t charge you with illegally recording the police.

Twelve states require that all parties first give their consent before you can legally record a conversation. Those states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

NC One Party Recording Law

Two of those states, Massachusetts and Illinois have a provision called an “expectation of privacy.” This means these laws do not apply to recording on-duty police.

In the rest of the 48 states, it is legal to openly film police who are on-duty.

It’s OK to protect your Constitutional Rights

If you’re not interfering with the police performing their public functions and you’re in a public place, the police cannot tell you to stop filming.

As long as you’re recording from a distance and you’re not interfering with the actual scene, no officer has the right to confiscate your recording device.

Finding an OBX Criminal Lawyer 

They can ask you to stop interfering with their work, but they cannot destroy any film.

If, when you film police, they approach you and ask what you’re doing, the best way to answer is to explain that you aren’t interfering. Simply state that you are exercising your First Amendment rights. Then explain that you’re documenting and recording their actions offsite.

Do I have to show ID?

If you’re driving in NC, you are required to present proof of a valid NC license issued by NC DMV or another state.

If detained, feel free to provide police your name and address.  You generally do not have the ID or other information if you’re just walking down the street and/or not operating a motor vehicle.

Always Remain Calm, Be Polite

Some police do not like being filmed.

That’s why it’s up to you to remain calm when you decide to film police.   In other words, even if you do everything right, you still might end up in jail.  That’s true even if you’re not actually breaking the law.

If you’re asked to shut off your camera or risk being arrested, it’s your decision on how far you want to go to exercise your freedom of speech.  There may be consequences to actions, including an illegal arrest that will need to be cleared up in a court of law.

If law enforcement officials threaten to arrest you, believe them. If you choose to comply, you can tell them that you are but are doing so under protest.

For those brave enough to keep recording, expect to be arrested. However, do not physically resist. And don’t drop your camera.

As always, you have the right to remain silent until you speak with a lawyer. Use that right and keep quiet.  Take the 5th. 

If your camera is still recording, remember, you too are being judged. Behave well and your experience will be much more likely to be resolved in your favor.

Don’t Share Your Film with the Police

If you film police acting improperly, you’re not required to share the footage or give them access to your phone.

It’s also plausible that an officer may attempt to simply erase your video from your phone. If you own a smartphone, make sure you password protect it.

If they ask you for your code, do NOT give it to them.

If you feel you’re going to film police often, consider downloading a streaming video recording and sharing app like Bambuser. They’re free and they’ll store your video offsite.

Contact Us If You Need Help

Even if you do everything right, you may end up being arrested. That’s when it’s time to call a lawyer to help you out.

criminal defense lawyer is familiar with the current laws and can help you sort of any legal issues stemming from your arrest.

Don’t wait. Protect yourself by contacting us today.

Legal representation for DWI charges in NC:

  • Tyrrell
  • Hyde
  • Hertford
  • Chowan County
Contact Information