A Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Explains Your Right To Record Police
The law hasn't changed much in years, but new questions about whether it's legal to record Texas police officer interactions keep coming up.
It's understandable why there is confusion: Cops often order people to turn off their cameras, even when those people are completely within their right to record.
Meanwhile, the importance of witness videos and police bodycam footage as evidence in criminal cases is skyrocketing. Oftentimes, judges and juries are predisposed to believe police officer testimony. Sometimes, a video showing what really happened is the only way to overcome this bias.
Questions about recording police can be pretty nuanced, but in general:
Yes, you have the right to film Texas police encounters. As long as you are not interrupting, impeding, or otherwise interfering with a cop's ability to do their work, you can film and take photos. This goes for filming and photographing firefighters and EMS (emergency medical services), too.
Recording Texas police
To help protect your rights and your freedom, The Webb Law Firm, P.C. is providing the following information on filming cops in Texas. Here's what the law says:
- You have the right to record anything in plain view in public spaces - including the police.
- You may also record police on private property. However, the property owner has the right to ask you to stop and leave - even if they previously granted you access. If you do not leave, you could be considered trespassing, at which time, recording may cease to be lawful. You can be arrested for trespassing if you refuse to leave.
- In general, police may not confiscate your phone, camera, or other recording devices without a warrant. Even if you are being arrested, they are not allowed to do this. If you find yourself in this situation, it is a good idea to clearly state that you do not give your consent for the police to look through your device and view your footage or photos.
- Police may not delete your photos or videos.
- Police have the authority to order people to stop recording if such an action is legitimately interfering with legitimate law enforcement work.
- Your right to record police interactions does not give you the right to trespass on private property or break other laws in an effort to record the situation.
What to do if the police tell you to stop recording
If you are stopped or detained for recording police interactions, it's important to know how to handle the situation. You want to be clear about your intentions and your rights, but also polite. Here's what the ACLU advises you do:
- Be as calm and polite as possible.
- Verbally assert your rights.
- Never physically resist a police officer.
- Ask "Am I free to go?" If the answer is, "yes," then you are in a voluntary conversation with an officer and are free to leave at any time. If the officer says, "no," then you are being detained. For a Texas detainment to be legal, officers must have a reasonable suspicion that you have, are, or are about to commit a crime. So, ask them to explain why you are being detained.
- It may help to point out that photographing and filming police does not create a reasonable suspicion of a crime and that your right to record is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
- Be aware of audio-recording laws in your state. In some states, it is illegal to record sound if the person being recorded is unaware they are being taped. In Texas, however, only one person must consent to an audio recording for it to be legal. So, it is fine to record audio of your own police interactions regardless of location. If you are recording someone else's interaction with police, if it is in a public place where there is no expectation of privacy, the law says you may record audio without issue.
In short, you have a right to record the police. Doing so is increasing in importance. We've seen many cases where the police seem to be in the right, then video evidence shows what really happened.
Facing charges in Montgomery County? Call us.
The Webb Firm, P.C. has a deep understanding of how the Montgomery County justice system work. Attorney Amanda Webb was an assistant district attorney here before founding her own criminal defense practice. Now, she uses that knowledge and experience to help defend her clients.
If you are facing charges in Montgomery County, contact us today for a free consultation. We can answer your questions and give you a clear understanding of your legal rights and options.