Federal Court Rules Videotaping Police Is A First Amendment Right

The Federal Appeals Court has ruled that video recording the police in a public place is a constitutional right for all U.S. citizens. This is a great win for the freedom movement.  Public officials need to be held accountable for their actions.   See ruling below.

Plaintiff, Appellee,
JOHN CUNNIFFE, in his individual capacity; PETER J. SAVALIS, in his individual capacity; JEROME HALL-BREWSTER, in his individual capacity; CITY OF BOSTON,
Defendants, Appellants.

[Hon. William G. Young, U.S. District Judge]

 Torruella, Lipez, and Howard,
Circuit Judges.


    Ian D. Prior, Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Boston Law Department, with whom William F. Sinnott, Corporation Counsel, and Lisa Skehill Maki, Assistant Corporation Counsel, were on brief, for appellants.
    David Milton, with whom Howard Friedman, Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C., Sarah Wunsch, and ACLU of Massachusettswere on brief, for appellee.
    Anjana Samant and Center for Constitutional Rights on brief for Berkeley Copwatch, Communities United Against Police Brutality, Justice Committee, Milwaukee Police Accountability Coalition, Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, and Portland Copwatch, amici curiae.
August 26, 2011
         LIPEZ, Circuit Judge. Simon Glik was arrested for using his cell phone’s digital video camera to film several police officers arresting a young man on the Boston Common. The charges against Glik, which included violation of Massachusetts’s wiretap statute and two other state-law offenses, were subsequently judged baseless and were dismissed. Glik then brought this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that his arrest for filming the officers constituted a violation of his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

         In this interlocutory appeal, the defendant police officers challenge an order of the district court denying them qualified immunity on Glik’s constitutional claims. We conclude, based on the facts alleged, that Glik was exercising clearly-established First Amendment rights in filming the officers in a public space, and that his clearly-established Fourth Amendment rights were violated by his arrest without probable cause. We therefore affirm.

         We recite the pertinent facts based upon the allegations of the complaint, Asociación de Subscripción Conjunta del Seguro de Responsabilidad Obligatorio v. Flores Galarza, 484 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2007), “accepting all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true,” Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo, 590 F.3d 31, 36, 52 n.15 (1st Cir. 2009).
         As he was walking past the Boston Common on the evening of October 1, 2007, Simon Glik caught sight of three police officers — the individual defendants here — arresting a young man. Glik heard another bystander say something to the effect of, “You are hurting him, stop.” Concerned that the officers were employing excessive force to effect the arrest, Glik stopped roughly ten feet away and began recording video footage of the arrest on his cell phone.
         After placing the suspect in handcuffs, one of the officers turned to Glik and said, “I think you have taken enough pictures.” Glik replied, “I am recording this. I saw you punch him.” An officer  then approached Glik and asked if Glik’s cell phone recorded audio. When Glik affirmed that he was recording audio, the officer placed him in handcuffs, arresting him for, inter alia, unlawful audio recording in violation of Massachusetts’s wiretap statute. Glik was taken to the South Boston police station. In the course of booking, the police confiscated Glik’s cell phone and a computer flash drive and held them as evidence.

         Glik was eventually charged with violation of the wiretap statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99(C)(1), disturbing the peace, id. ch. 272, § 53(b), and aiding in the escape of a prisoner, id. ch. 268, § 17. Acknowledging lack of probable cause for the last of these charges, the Commonwealth voluntarily dismissed the count of aiding in the escape of a prisoner. In February 2008, in response to Glik’s motion to dismiss, the Boston Municipal Court disposed of the remaining two charges for disturbance of the peace and violation of the wiretap statute. With regard to the former, the court noted that the fact that the “officers were unhappy they were being recorded during an arrest . . . does not make a lawful exercise of a First Amendment right a crime.” Likewise, the court found no probable cause supporting the wiretap charge, because the law requires a secret recording and the officers admitted that Glik had used his cell phone openly and in plain view to obtain the video and audio recording.

         Glik filed an internal affairs complaint with the Boston Police Department following his arrest, but to no avail. The Department did not investigate his complaint or initiate disciplinary action against the arresting officers. In February 2010, Glik filed a civil rights action against the officers and the City of Boston in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The complaint included claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Glik’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as state-law claims under the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § 11I, and for malicious prosecution.

         The defendants moved to dismiss Glik’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that the allegations of the complaint failed to adequately support Glik’s claims and that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity “because it is not well-settled that he had a constitutional right to record the officers.” At a hearing on the motion, the district court focused on the qualified immunity defense, noting that it presented the closest issue. After hearing argument from the parties, the court orally denied the defendants’ motion, concluding that “in the First Circuit . . . this First Amendment right publicly to record the activities of police officers on public business is established.”

         This timely appeal followed. Denial of a motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds, unlike denial of a typical motion to dismiss, is immediately appealable on interlocutory review. Garnier v. Rodríguez, 506 F.3d 22, 25 (1st Cir. 2007); cf. Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam) (stressing “the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation”). We limit our review to the issue of qualified immunity, Garnier, 506 F.3d at 25, which is a legal determination that we review de novo, Raiche v. Pietroski, 623 F.3d 30, 35 (1st Cir. 2010).

         Long-standing principles of constitutional litigation entitle public officials to qualified immunity from personal liability arising out of actions taken in the exercise of discretionary functions. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 807 (1982); Barton v. Clancy, 632 F.3d 9, 21 (1st Cir. 2011). The qualified immunity doctrine “balances two important interests — the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). We apply a two-prong analysis in determining questions of qualified immunity. Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 269 (1st Cir. 2009). These prongs, which may be resolved in any order, Pearson, 555 U.S. at 236, require that we decide “(1) whether the facts alleged or shown by the plaintiff make out a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) if so, whether the right was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the defendant’s alleged violation,” Maldonado, 568 F.3d at 269.

          The latter analysis of whether a right was “clearly established” further divides into two parts: “(1) ‘the clarity of the law at the time of the alleged civil rights violation,’ and (2) whether, given the facts of the particular case, ‘a reasonable defendant would have understood that his conduct violated the plaintiff[‘s] constitutional rights.'” Barton, 632 F.3d at 22 (alteration in original) (quoting Maldonado, 568 F.3d at 269). An affirmative finding on these inquiries does “not require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must have placed the . . . constitutional question beyond debate.”Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S. Ct. 2074, 2083 (2011). At bottom, “the salient question is whether the state of the law at the time of the alleged violation gave the defendant fair warning that his particular conduct was unconstitutional.” Maldonado, 568 F.3d at 269.

         On appeal, appellants  argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity on each of Glik’s constitutional claims and, accordingly, that the district erred in denying their motion to dismiss.  Their arguments track the two parts of the “clearly established right” analysis. With regard to the First Amendment claim, appellants dispute the clarity of the law establishing a First Amendment right to record police officers carrying out their public duties. On the Fourth Amendment claim, appellants contend that, in light of Massachusetts case law interpreting the state’s wiretap statute, a reasonable officer would have believed there was probable cause to arrest Glik, and thus would not have understood that the arrest would violate the Fourth Amendment. We examine each argument in turn.

A. Immunity from Glik’s First Amendment Claim
         1. Were Glik’s First Amendment Rights Violated?
         The First Amendment issue here is, as the parties frame it, fairly narrow: is there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.
          It is firmly established that the First Amendment’s aegis extends further than the text’s proscription on laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and encompasses a range of conduct related to the gathering and dissemination of information. As the Supreme Court has observed, “the First Amendment goes beyond protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.” First Nat’l Bank v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 783 (1978); see also Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969) (“It is . . . well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas.”). An important corollary to this interest in protecting the stock of public information is that “[t]here is an undoubted right to gather news ‘from any source by means within the law.'” Houchinsv. KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1, 11 (1978) (quoting Branzburg v.Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 681-82 (1972)).

         The filming of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities, fits comfortably within these principles. Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting “the free discussion of governmental affairs.” Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214, 218 (1966). Moreover, as the Court has noted, “[f]reedom of expression has particular significance with respect to government because ‘[i]t is here that the state has a special incentive to repress opposition and often wields a more effective power of suppression.'” First Nat’l Bank, 435 U.S. at 777 n.11 (alteration in original) (quoting Thomas Emerson,Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment 9 (1966)). This is particularly true of law enforcement officials, who are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties. Cf. Gentile v. State Bar of Nev., 501 U.S. 1030, 1035-36 (1991) (observing that “[t]he public has an interest in [the] responsible exercise” of the discretion granted police and prosecutors). Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses, see id. at 1034-35 (recognizing a core First Amendment interest in “the dissemination of information relating to alleged governmental misconduct”), but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally, see Press-Enter. Co.v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 8 (1986) (noting that “many governmental processes operate best under public scrutiny”).

         In line with these principles, we have previously recognized that the videotaping of public officials is an exercise of First Amendment liberties. In Iacobucci v. Boulter, 193 F.3d 14 (1st Cir. 1999), a local journalist brought a § 1983 claim arising from his arrest in the course of filming officials in the hallway outside a public meeting of a historic district commission. The commissioners had objected to the plaintiff’s filming. Id. at 18. When the plaintiff refused to desist, a police officer on the scene arrested him for disorderly conduct.Id. The charges were later dismissed. Id. Although the plaintiff’s subsequent § 1983 suit against the arresting police officer was grounded largely in the Fourth Amendment and did not include a First Amendment claim, we explicitly noted, in rejecting the officer’s appeal from a denial of qualified immunity, that because the plaintiff’s journalistic activities “were peaceful, not performed in derogation of any law, and done in the exercise of his First Amendment rights, [the officer] lacked the authority to stop them.” Id. at 25 (emphasis added).

         Our recognition that the First Amendment protects the filming of government officials in public spaces accords with the decisions of numerous circuit and district courts. See,e.g., Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332, 1333 (11th Cir. 2000) (“The First Amendment protects the right to gather information about what public officials do on public property, and specifically, a right to record matters of public interest.”); Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436, 439 (9th Cir. 1995) (recognizing a “First Amendment right to film matters of public interest”); Demarest v. Athol/Orange Cmty. Television, Inc., 188 F. Supp. 2d 82, 94-95 (D. Mass. 2002) (finding it “highly probable” that filming of a public official on street outside his home by contributors to public access cable show was protected by the First Amendment, and noting that, “[a]t base, plaintiffs had a constitutionally protected right to record matters of public interest”); Channel 10, Inc. v. Gunnarson, 337 F. Supp. 634, 638 (D. Minn. 1972) (holding that police interference with television newsman’s filming of crime scene and seizure of video camera constituted unlawful prior restraint under First Amendment); cf. Schnell v. City of Chi., 407 F.2d 1084, 1085 (7th Cir. 1969) (reversing dismissal for failure to state a claim of suit claiming police interference with news reporters and photographers’ “constitutional right to gather and report news, and to photograph news events” under the First Amendment (internal quotation mark omitted)), overruled on othergrounds by City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507 (1973);Connell v. Town of Hudson, 733 F. Supp. 465, 471-72 (D.N.H. 1990) (denying qualified immunity from First Amendment claim to police chief who prevented freelance photographer from taking pictures of car accident).

         It is of no significance that the present case, unlikeIacobucci and many of those cited above, involves a private individual, and not a reporter, gathering information about public officials. The First Amendment right to gather news is, as the Court has often noted, not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media; rather, the public’s right of access to information is coextensive with that of the press. Houchins, 438 U.S. at 16 (Stewart, J., concurring) (noting that the Constitution “assure[s] the public and the press equal access once government has opened its doors”); Branzburg, 408 U.S. at 684 (“[T]he First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally.”). Indeed, there are several cases involving private individuals among the decisions from other courts recognizing the First Amendment right to film. See,e.g., Smith, 212 F.3d 1332; Robinson v. Fetterman, 378 F. Supp. 2d 534 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that arrest of individual filming police activities from private property violated First Amendment); Cirelli v. Town of Johnston Sch. Dist., 897 F. Supp. 663 (D.R.I. 1995) (holding that teacher had a right under the First Amendment to videotape potentially hazardous working conditions at school, which were a matter of public concern). Moreover, changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.

         To be sure, the right to film is not without limitations. It may be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. See Smith, 212 F.3d at 1333. We have no occasion to explore those limitations here, however. On the facts alleged in the complaint, Glik’s exercise of his First Amendment rights fell well within the bounds of the Constitution’s protections. Glik filmed the defendant police officers in the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a public forum. In such traditional public spaces, the rights of the state to limit the exercise of First Amendment activity are “sharply circumscribed.” Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass’n, 460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983). Moreover, as in Iacobucci, the complaint indicates that Glik “filmed [the officers] from a comfortable remove” and “neither spoke to nor molested them in any way” (except in directly responding to the officers when they addressed him). 193 F.3d at 25. Such peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties is not reasonably subject to limitation.

         In our society, police officers are expected to endure significant burdens caused by citizens’ exercise of their First Amendment rights. See City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 461 (1987) (“[T]he First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers.”). Indeed, “[t]he freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” Id. at 462-63. The same restraint demanded of law enforcement officers in the face of “provocative and challenging” speech, id. at 461 (quoting Terminiello v.Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949)), must be expected when they are merely the subject of videotaping that memorializes, without impairing, their work in public spaces.
         2. Was the Right to Film Clearly Established?

         Though the “clearly established” inquiry does “not require a case directly on point,” al-Kidd, 131 S. Ct. at 2083, we have such a case in Iacobucci. What is particularly notable about Iacobucci is the brevity of the First Amendment discussion, a characteristic found in other circuit opinions that have recognized a right to film government officials or matters of public interest in public space. See Smith, 212 F.3d at 1333; Fordyce, 55 F.3d at 439. This terseness implicitly speaks to the fundamental and virtually self-evident nature of the First Amendment’s protections in this area. Cf. Lee v.Gregory, 363 F.3d 931, 936 (9th Cir. 2004) (noting that some constitutional violations are “self-evident” and do not require particularized case law to substantiate them). We thus have no trouble concluding that “the state of the law at the time of the alleged violation gave the defendant[s] fair warning that [their] particular conduct was unconstitutional.” Maldonado, 568 F.3d at 269.

         We find unavailing the two cases principally relied upon by the appellants in arguing that the First Amendment right to film was not clearly established at the time of the arrest, both of which were decided after Glik’s arrest. The first is an unpublished per curiam opinion from the Fourth Circuit that summarily concludes, with no discussion of the facts or relevant law, that the “right to record police activities on public property was not clearly established in this circuit at the time of the alleged conduct.” Szymecki v. Houck, 353 F. App’x 852 (4th Cir. 2009). Such unpublished opinions “have no precedential force,” Merrimac Paper Co. v. Harrison (In re Merrimac Paper Co.), 420 F.3d 53, 60 (1st Cir. 2005); see also United States v.King, 628 F.3d 693, 700 n.3 (4th Cir. 2011) (same), and the absence of substantive discussion deprives Szymecki of any marginal persuasive value it might otherwise have had.

         The second case appellants cite is a Third Circuit opinion finding the right to film not clearly established in the context of a traffic stop, characterized as an “inherently dangerous situation[].” Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248, 262 (3d Cir. 2010). Kelly is clearly distinguishable on its facts; a traffic stop is worlds apart from an arrest on the Boston Common in the circumstances alleged. Nonetheless, even if these cases were to establish a circuit split with respect to the clarity of the First Amendment’s protections in the situation before us, that split would not undermine our conclusion that the right violated by appellants was clearly established in this circuit at the time of Glik’s arrest. SeeNewman v. Massachusetts, 884 F.2d 19, 25 (1st Cir. 1989) (finding constitutional right clearly established in the First Circuit despite “recogni[tion] that the courts are not yet unanimous on whether this . . . right exists”).

         In summary, though not unqualified, a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment. Accordingly, we hold that the district court did not err in denying qualified immunity to the appellants on Glik’s First Amendment claim.
B. Immunity from Glik’s Fourth Amendment Claim

         1. Were Glik’s Fourth Amendment Rights Violated?
         The existence of a Fourth Amendment violation on the facts alleged here turns on a question of Massachusetts law. The Fourth Amendment requires that an arrest be grounded in probable cause, Martínez-Rodríguez v. Guevara, 597 F.3d 414, 420 (1st Cir. 2010), i.e., that, “at the time of the arrest, the ‘facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge . . . [were] sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect [had] committed, [was] committing, or [was] about to commit an offense,'” Holder v. Town of Sandown, 585 F.3d 500, 504 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979)). The thrust of Glik’s Fourth Amendment claim is that the appellants lacked any such probable cause that Glik had violated state law at the time of arrest. The appellants argue, to the contrary, that the allegations of the complaint establish probable cause that Glik violated Massachusetts’s wiretap statute.  Upon examination of the statute and relevant case law from Massachusetts’s Supreme Judicial Court, we disagree.

         Massachusetts’s wiretap statute makes it a crime to “willfully commit[] an interception . . . of any wire or oral communication.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99(C)(1). As the Supreme Judicial Court has noted, this statute sweeps more broadly than comparable laws in other jurisdictions, in that its prohibition is not restricted to the recording of communications that are made with a reasonable expectation of privacy. SeeCommonwealth v. Hyde, 750 N.E.2d 963, 967-68 & n.5 (Mass. 2001).  The critical limiting term in the statute is “interception,” defined to mean “to secretly hear, secretly record, or aid another to secretly hear or secretly record the contents of any wire or oral communication through the use of any intercepting device by any person other than a person given prior authority by all parties to such communication.” Id. § 99(B)(4).

         The relevant question, then, is whether, on the facts alleged in the complaint, Glik “secretly” videotaped the appellant officers.  The Supreme Judicial Court has held that a recording is “secret” unless the subject has “actual knowledge” of the fact of recording. Commonwealth v. Jackson, 349 N.E.2d 337, 340 (Mass. 1976). It has also made clear that “actual knowledge” can be proven by “objective manifestations of knowledge” to “avoid the problems involved in speculating as to the [subject’s] subjective state of mind.” Id. at 340-41. Moreover, the court has noted that “actual knowledge” does not require that there be any explicit acknowledgment of or reference to the fact of the recording. Id. at 340 (“[T]he person recording the conversation [need not] confirm the [subject’s] apparent awareness by acknowledging the fact of the intercepting device.”). Thus, in Hyde, where the defendant was convicted of a wiretap violation for secretly recording a traffic stop, the Supreme Judicial Court explained that “the recording would not have been secret” within the meaning of the statute if the defendant had simply “held the tape recorder in plain sight.” 750 N.E.2d at 971. The unmistakable logic of Hyde, building on Jackson, is that the secrecy inquiry turns on notice, i.e., whether, based on objective indicators, such as the presence of a recording device in plain view, one can infer that the subject was aware that she might be recorded.

         Commonwealth v. Rivera, 833 N.E.2d 1113 (Mass. 2005), forcefully illustrates this point. There, a criminal defendant argued for suppression under the wiretap statute of an audio recording by a convenience store security camera, on the theory that he lacked actual knowledge that the security cameras recorded audio as well as video. Although the case was resolved on other grounds, four of the seven justices of the Supreme Judicial Court concurred to note that the defendant’s unawareness of the audio recording capabilities of the security cameras did not render the recordings “secret” under the wiretap statute where the cameras were in plain sight. Id. at 1125 (Cowin, J., concurring in part) (“That the defendant did not know the camera also included an audio component does not convert this otherwise open recording into the type of ‘secret’ interception prohibited by the Massachusetts wiretap statute.”);id. at 1130 (Cordy, J., concurring) (“Just because a robber with a gun may not realize that the surveillance camera pointed directly at him is recording both his image and his voice does not . . . make the recording a ‘secret’ one within the meaning and intent of the statute.”).

         The complaint alleges that Glik “openly record[ed] the police officers” with his cell phone, and further that “the police officers admitted Mr. Glik was publicly and openly recording them.” On its face, this conduct falls plainly outside the type of clandestine recording targeted by the wiretap statute. See Jackson, 349 N.E.2d at 339 (“While we recognize that [the wiretap statute] is designed to control the use of electronic surveillance devices by private individuals because of the serious threat they pose to ‘the privacy of all citizens,’ (§ 99A), it is clear that the Legislature intended that the statutory restrictions be applicable only to the secretuse of such devices.” (emphasis added)). Moreover, not only doesHyde (along with the Rivera concurrences) indicate that the use of a recording device in “plain sight,” as here, constitutes adequate objective evidence of actual knowledge of the recording, but here the police officers made clear through their conduct that they knew Glik was recording them. Specifically, one of the police officers approached Glik after the suspect had been handcuffed and told him, “I think you have taken enough pictures.”

         The officers protest that Glik’s use of a cell phone was insufficient to put them on notice of the recording. They note that a cell phone, unlike the tape recorder used in Hyde, has numerous discrete functions, such as text messaging, internet browsing, video gaming, and photography, and thus the fact of an individual holding out a cell phone in front of his body is of indeterminate significance. The argument suffers from factual as well as legal flaws. The allegations of the complaint indicate that the officers were cognizant of Glik’s surveillance, knew that Glik was using his phone to record them in some fashion, and were aware, based on their asking Glik whether he was recording audio, that cell phones may have sound recording capabilities. The fact that a cell phone may have other functions is thus irrelevant to the question of whether Glik’s recording was “secret.”

         Appellants’ argument reduces to the contention that, though they were aware of Glik’s recording, they initially thought Glik was taking pictures of them rather than recording video and audio. This is almost precisely the argument rejected by the four concurring justices in Rivera, and it runs directly contrary to the logic of Hyde’s “plain view” discussion. Taking the appellants’ argument to its logical end, the Hydedefendant’s recording would have escaped a wiretap offense only if he had held his tape recorder in plain view and there was affirmative evidence that the officers were aware that the device was switched on and recording audio. To the contrary,Hyde makes the point that the use in plain view of a device commonly known to record audio is, on its own, sufficient evidence from which to infer the subjects’ actual knowledge of the recording. See 750 N.E.2d at 971 (noting that recording would not have been secret under the statute if “the defendant had simply informed the police of his intention to tape record the encounter, or even held the tape recorder in plain sight” (emphasis added)). Simply put, a straightforward reading of the statute and case law cannot support the suggestion that a recording made with a device known to record audio and held in plain view is “secret.”

         We thus conclude, on the facts of the complaint, that Glik’s recording was not “secret” within the meaning of Massachusetts’s wiretap statute, and therefore the officers lacked probable cause to arrest him. Accordingly, the complaint makes out a violation of Glik’s Fourth Amendment rights.
         2. Was the Absence of Probable Cause Clearly Established Under the Circumstances?


         Appellants contend that, regardless of whether Glik’s conduct in fact violated the wiretap law, the state of the law was such that a reasonable officer would not have understood that arresting Glik for a wiretap offense under the circumstances alleged in the complaint would violate Glik’s Fourth Amendment rights. They point out, rightly, that a lesser showing is required for an officer to be entitled to qualified immunity from a Fourth Amendment claim based on a warrantless arrest than to establish probable cause. See Cox v. Hainey, 391 F.3d 25, 31 (1st Cir. 2004). Officers are entitled to qualified immunity “so long as the presence of probable cause is at least arguable.” Ricci v. Urso, 974 F.2d 5, 7 (1st Cir. 1992) (quotingProkey v. Watkins, 942 F.2d 67, 72 (1st Cir. 1991)).

         The presence of probable cause was not even arguable here. The allegations of the complaint establish that Glik was openly recording the police officers and that they were aware of his surveillance. For the reasons we have discussed, we see no basis in the law for a reasonable officer to conclude that such a conspicuous act of recording was “secret” merely because the officer did not have actual knowledge of whether audio was being recorded. We thus agree with the district court that, at this stage in the litigation, the officers are not entitled to qualified immunity from Glik’s Fourth Amendment claim.
         For the reasons set forth above, we affirm the district court’s order denying appellants’ claim of qualified immunity.
         So ordered.

Lady Justice May Be Blind 1

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59 Responses to Federal Court Rules Videotaping Police Is A First Amendment Right

  1. Ed September 1, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Of course, most of us already knew that Glik was in the right.
    Next step would be a suit against the “officers” for perjury of oath. After all, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

    • Randy April 26, 2014 at 10:50 am #


  2. Tyler Westbrook December 6, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I am very interested in this, I am a citizen journalist, with a focus on civil resistance to an immoral government. I have had cops try to get me again and again, but I have managed to stay out of reach. I am so glad to see this, as if recording is “wiretapping”, No, that is what “they” do to us… we film. My Camera is my AK, and I will go down shooting!

  3. tgt December 6, 2011 at 3:32 pm #


    • Tom December 7, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

      Sad. So many people are addicted to sound-bite sized chunks, and unable or unwilling to take the time to read, or even listen to, more than a handful of syllables. Complacent to be told don’t worry, all is well. There even seems to be a pride these days is bragging “I don’t read books!” and “Education is worthless.” We are living in the world we deserve.

  4. Red December 6, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Its undeniable truth that the majority of citizens that have their rights violated in such a fashion don’t have the resources the bring about the brief justice that we see in GLIK v.CITY OF BOSTON . Until all government officials are held to at least the same accountability of the average citizen, there will not be enough deterrent to stem the frequency of such violations. Many such rulings are unfortunately overturned eventually, but I do see this as a step in the right direction. Record away, and hold ’em accountable America! (and everywhere else justice is absent)

  5. James F barry December 6, 2011 at 10:11 pm #

    YEA……thanks for putting this up…=0)

  6. Jeff December 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    The whole “arrest video recorders and call it wire tapping” was always just a fishing expedition. BUT it’s the kind of test that, if it had continued, would have become codified and accepted and the right to be free of this ridiculous intimidation would have faded away. GOOD JOB to those who saw this through. Now if we could only get HABEUS CORPUS back!

  7. Mark J December 7, 2011 at 5:20 pm #

    The definition of the press has to be expanded to include anyone with a cell phone camera and access to social media, or it’s not a free press. Any laws prohibiting citizens from photographing the police at work is censorship of the press. If the government sets any standards as to what constitutes a journalist, it is regulating the press and therefore, violating the first amendment .

    • MPH November 2, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

      By freedom of the press, the founders didn’t mean freedom of journalists, or news media. They meant freedom of the printing press; freedom to publish. That includes journalists, and anyone else who might want to publish something, including someone with a cell phone camera.

  8. Alex December 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Looks like a judge was finally able to put reason on paper. Not only that, they turned a case against a robber against the police… now that is justice! Shows perfectly clear that cops are criminals. inter alia

    • Joni jetsetter December 8, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      SIMPLY ABSURD! Police are criminals?? Are you serious? Life would be hell without them! I would like to know who you call when your wife, daughter or mother is being assaulted or abused by someone…….maybe you can call a ” bystander” and just have them video tape it. How many excuses do you need to blame someone else for bad behavior? God help you if you ever dial 911 for help!

      • Red December 8, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

        I agree with you completely, civilization is not possible without set rules and those to enforce them. One bad apple does not make the bushel bad, and I’m sure its tough for law enforcement to stay current on what laws actually say, and how to enforce them. That being said, it is they that should set the example, and it is their job to do so. Protecting one of their own when they have arrogantly and without regard broken that trust causes distrust of the public in general. If this means better pay because better training is necessary, then be it. In short, punishment for all breaking the law should be equal, and the badge should not shield and give immunity.

        • Keith Hamburger December 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

          I don’t agree at all. Virtually every cop is a felon. If not by acts of commission, by omission. If a cop ever observes, hears a report, or even a credible rumor of lawbreaking by a fellow officer he is obligated to follow up on that in the same manner he would if he had reason to believe any other person had committed a crime. The fact that there are so many reports of apparent criminal behavior by the “few bad apples” that are never prosecuted, and that so few cops go to prison for their criminal acts, means that virtually no cops are following up on such prosecution as their brethren.

          Whenever a cop treats another person in similar costume differently than he would treat one of us “mundanes” he is accomplice and accessory to the crime and just as culpable. When a cop covers up a crime, as is almost certain of any higher ranking supervisory officer in any moderate size city, they are even more criminal.

      • Josey Wales January 25, 2012 at 11:16 am #

        More cops than you would like to believe, especially up there are as crooked as they come.

        And perhaps he pulls out a gun when he needs to defend himself or loved ones.

      • James March 9, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

        When the police violate the law they are criminals. It seem self evident that these officers were concerned that evidence of them abusing an arrestee was being captured and were eager to see that evidence not be gathered. The only way a free society remains free is when the government remains accountable to the People.

      • jeff p March 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

        i dont call 911 i call my glock f the po po

      • David May 26, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

        Don’t count on the police rushing to save the day. They then to show up after “your wife, daughter or mother is being assaulted or abused by someone”. Enjoy your 2nd amendment right and protect yourself.

        • Randy April 26, 2014 at 11:01 am #

          You are correct, but the fundamental right to own a gun, was actually to deter government tyranny, or to abolish a rogue government, kind of like the one we have in place now

      • Randy April 26, 2014 at 10:59 am #

        The Supreme Court has ruled that Police have no duty to citizens, their job is to enforce the law, or in other words, hand out tickets to citizens, and as is almost always the case, intimidate citizens, we don’t need to call the police if someone is harming a family member, we can just shoot them, plain and simple, Now if the Police were required to protect citizens, it would be different, but they have made it abundantly clear, that is not their responsibility,

      • andy tasker December 12, 2014 at 7:10 am #

        What is it the the cops are doing that they don’t want to come to light is the question that immediately comes to mind. The “one bad apple” rationale doesn’t wash when we see videos of a group of officers beating a cuffed person unconscious. These are Gestapo tactics and American cops should be ashamed, but aren’t.

  9. shahdaroba rodd December 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    I’m going through a situation in Key West FL that may have a similar ending. I live in my vehicle and have endured many late night/early morning raids and intrusions, each w/ accusations of me sleeping in my vehicle and “camping”. recently i found info on “Terry stops” and 4th Amend. rights. so now I have a sign attached to both sides of my van saying, “WARNING ! Due to the rude and crude behavior of, and illegal activities by, certain K.W.P.d. officers, ALL interactions and conversations will be recorded by audio and video equipment. IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE RECORDED, DO NOT DISTURB THE OWNER OF THIS VEHICLE”.
    It’s all too recent to have any thing to report, but to help cover my butt, I emailed all the KW city officials (mayor, commissioners, city atty, city mgr, and KWPD chief) that I will not take it anymore. so we’ll see how well they take to my WARNING sign.
    It really is pretty basic cops; if you’re not doing anything wrong/illegal, why do you mind evidence showing you’re doing things properly?

    • Bryan F April 10, 2013 at 12:22 am #

      So I’m curious how this worked out for you as I have had similar experiences in the past.

  10. Mark Hartman December 8, 2011 at 12:57 am #

    As the owner of a private Videography business, I have done some “Stringing” video and have actually been told not to shoot video of bodies being removed from vehicles after car accidents by California Highway Patrol officers. Albeit, I would not publish such videography even after recording it… I find this ruling affirms my right to record anything in the process of “Gathering” so long as I am in a public place. However police officers are not lawyers and sometimes don’t understand the interpretation of the law in all instances. Nor are the knowledgeable of new court rulings since they are constantly in the field and not updated of current rulings. I always comply with officers who ask me to move away or behind specified boundaries just to be compliant to laws such as “Interfering with a police investigation.” But I don’t stop recording especially when they are speaking to me just for my own protection.

    • Keith Hamburger December 22, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

      “However police officers are not lawyers and sometimes don’t understand the interpretation of the law in all instances. Nor are the knowledgeable of new court rulings since they are constantly in the field and not updated of current rulings”

      Ignorance of the law is no excuse. That should apply far more strongly to those who claim the right to use violence to “enforce” the law than it would to anyone else.

      • Mark Hartman December 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

        True, but my point was many officers don’t have time to keep up with every new law or ruling. Therefore I take a reserved attitude with them when they say stay behind this line. I stay behind that line but I zoom in just a little farther from behind that line. If they tell me to stop recording something I ask for what reason? If they tell me, because I said so, I tell them I am recording for news footage and I have the right to record but I am willing to cooperate with your orders for your safety and mine but I cannot stop recording unless there is a specific legal reason why I cannot. I usually don’t have any problems with police or deputies of the law because I do work around requests and I ask for a spokesperson for high ranking command person to interview and coordinate my efforts. Battalion chiefs and police sergeants or detectives are more than willing to help in my efforts since my local law enforcement is media friendly for the most part. I’ll record from a distance if I see something out of the ordinary and ask to record someone including officers up close in most instances. Rather than oppose an officer about their ignorance of law, I’d tell them okay I’ll not record you today but you need to read up and update your knowledge on the law about my right to record in public before your next shift. I won’t fight you on it this time but next time I expect you to know the current law. Kinda like a fix it ticket.

        • Jason November 18, 2012 at 4:43 am #

          I realize this is a year old post, but I need to point out something extremely important you most of you are missing here. Please don’t defend cops and say things like they dont have time to learn new laws and whatever else you said. I say this because we as citizens are “required” to know the law and “ignornace of the law is NEVER an excuse”. So, that being said by the police towards the rest of us also applies to them. If we HAVE to know the law then they do too…..simple. But whats the most disturbing thing is that say take for instance the DMV code book in CA (or any other state for that matter) that book is over an inch and a half thick. How is it reasonable for EVERY citizen to know ALL those laws in the state they reside? Then you have the federal tax code……something like over 72,000 pages! So EVERY citizen needs to know all that too?! Ok, well the list goes on and it’s pretty clear to me that the only thing that is accomplished by this massive amount to laws on the books is that it makes it impossible to know them all and therefore MUCH eaiser for the police to screw us over whenever they feel like it. Take something simple as using your blinker on your car. If i’m on a 1 lane road or a 2 lane road in the right lane and I want to make a right turn….why do I need to use my blinker? The person behind me will see my break lights and that means i’m slowing down. Whats accomplished by using my turn signal? Now any reasonable person will say if there are 2 lanes in your direction and you want to change lanes and there are cars near you in the other lane then OF COURSE a person needs to use his blinker, it’s to inform the people in that lane than I’m going into it. But anyways in what I was saying at first, it’s robbery to get a $250 fine for no blinker when making a right hand turn from the right lane.

          • Bryan F April 10, 2013 at 12:29 am #

            Sorry I disagree to a point. That fine is pretty steep BUT you are signaling to let drivers behind you know your intent. Driving on the roads is hazardous business and it is always good to know what drivers around you are going to do.
            For instance say the guy behind you is soft on the laws as well and decides that since the road is wide and you are slowing down he will just pass you on the right. He might have waited had he seen your blinker and knew you intended to turn. You are confusing brake light purpose with hazard light purpose. Brake lights could mean your car just quit running and you are coming to a stop. Of course it could mean a lot of things. Thus brake lights with a turn signal means you are slowing down to make a right hand turn. While it may not be important to you it is important to other drivers. :) cheers.

  11. shahdaroba rodd December 8, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    I’m involved in a situation that I may need to video cops. 10 days ago, as I was sleeping in my van in Key West FL I was rousted by cops, saying I couldn’t sleep in my van or “camp”. 2 of the cops were totally rude and crude w/ a LOT of F***ing this and F***ing that. so I now have a sign on both sides of my van saying, “WARNING ! Due to the rude and crude behavior of and illegal activities of certain K.W.P.D. police officers, ALL interactions and conversations will be recorded. IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE RECORDED, THEN DO NOT DISTURB THE OWNER OF THIS VEHICLE”.
    To cover my butt, I’ve sent an email to all KW city officials, complete w/photos of the signs, explaining about the restrictions of “Terry” stops.
    who knows how this works out, but I will be ready to photo/video cops in the future so it was good to read this article. thanks to the author. the KWHatman

  12. Jason December 8, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Fantastic! I love the reaffirmation of this legal precedent. One little nit-pick however:

    Contrary to your title, this appellate court did not rule that it is a first amendment right to film cops. That was ruled by a previous court. This court merely cited that precedent in its legal opinion for its ruling.

    The ruling of the court you published is merely that the appeal is denied, and that the prior court ruling stands: the defendant’s have no basis for immunity from prosecution.

    This is a meaningful distinction. For example, Citizens United did not rule that corporations have personhood. Citizens United just relied on that legal precedent for its ruling, which had to do with first amendment rights of corporations. This is a very meaningful distinction in most discussions about the law.

  13. Jack December 8, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    What this ruling established is that police officers can’t claim immunity if they’re caught violating 1st or 4th amendment rights of people openly recording public officials in public places.

    • Mark Hartman December 9, 2011 at 12:23 am #

      I agree that this particular ruling does not establish but references an established previous ruling which does affirm that visual and audio recording in a public place of police officers and the general scenery including persons in background or the actions of any individual is legal and within a persons 1st amendment rights. This ruling established a different precedent related thereto the ruling in the later ruling.

      In other words, you are right. But it is relevant to this ruling in they are connected. And this ruling further proves the point that a persons rights should not be violated and police are not always immune to personal lawsuit for their actions just because they thought they were right or wanted to be right.

      • Red December 9, 2011 at 1:56 am #

        Thats what it comes down to, the badge should not shield and give immunity.

        On point

  14. Mark Hartman December 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

    I think before it goes too far into saying it only applies to recording police, we should clarify that it is legal to record anything in a public place including other people even if they don’t want to be recorded. There is no expectation of privacy in a public place and you have the ability to leave. There is no law that prohibits individuals from videotaping in a public place with some exceptions. In most cities and counties throughout the US there is a permit required and insurance in order to videotape scenes for movies or documentaries of any kind. If the recording is for a “capitol venture” and will be displayed to a paying audience. However news gathering is not considered a capitol venture since it’s covered by the 1st amendment. Also shooting video for personal reasons or memorializing a place in a public place is considered a tourist activity of non-professional photography. The equipment used may it be professional or not does not constitute what the footage is by nature but the intent of use. They could give me a fine if I am caught shooting a documentary film scene for a capitol venture or release footage obtained without the use of a permit and places are recognized by officials in the permit office to be identifiable as within their area without having issued a permit to me. But I am a professional videography company owner. I can shoot birthdays and weddings without the permit under my existing business license. There are some steep problems with these laws in general. I would like to make a documentary or another small budget movie, but can’t afford to pay them $200 for each scene I shoot and further insure them for $1 million in insurance coverage and pay actors and crew etc… But I could make a deal with actors and crew for deferred pay. But not if I have to pay a city for doing nothing and insurance to insure damage I won’t cause and even if I did which I would be liable for anyway. If I walk down the street and harm something or if someone working for me gets hurt, I am liable to them anyway. What am I insuring? And why should I have to insure anything if I don’t want to? We need to increase the ability to compete in our country. In order to do that we need to change these too constrictive laws first. The police state needs to be relaxed some and the federal government needs to be pumped up to protect our borders and our citizens from the threats which are more elaborate than people with cameras. Next you will need a permit to whistle. Or smile?

    • Keith Hamburger December 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

      Where is the line between a “news” and a “documentary”? Most news programs are ‘for profit”. Many documentaries are intended to diseminate news and for political activism purposes, often not with an intent for profit but any charges are intended to cover costs of production and promote activism.

      Sounds like arbitrary money grubbing to me. Typical government action.

    • Jason November 18, 2012 at 4:49 am #

      Well in New jersey now you can’t walk down the sidewalk and text……so yeah….next will be whistling and smiling!

  15. sam adams December 14, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    looks good on the dirty corrupt pigs

  16. John January 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Vediotapping police is not a crime in China, North Korea and Guba.

    Shame on U.S.

    • micah February 1, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      If you are a Federal law enforcement officer, are you able to record other officers?

  17. state regulation July 10, 2014 at 4:52 am #

    And even then, the changes should not result in an unreasonable increase in workload, unfair changes in the roster, and additional higher level of
    duties without equivalent additional compensation. Soon, the public would not even believe that they have
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    You may ask what separates us from the other states and even from federal labor laws like the Fair labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the answer is a lot.

  18. Alice stroud June 11, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    I agree and disagree,as I believe legal officials and state and government should have to follow the constitutional rights that we do.if they can record us ,we should be able to record them.if they can ask us to give urine samples or blood samples we should be able to ask them to provide one at our discretion.if the can come invade our homes ,cars,and person on a hunch or on here say we should be able to do the same.if a judge or layer or doctor ,or state worker can make us provide these samples then we should be able to ask the same of them as being the judge and jury of our choices and ways of lives ,we are equal citizens of the united states of america,we should be able to do the same and ask the same.if they can be allowed to violate our right to privacy we should also,what the hell is the purpose of constitutional rights if nobody abides by them.that isn’t freedom that’s dictatorship.

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  1. More cops incapable of properly doing their job - Grasscity.com Forums - November 7, 2011

    […] the same tune. Until this August, in 15 states, this defense itself would have been illegal: Federal Court Rules Videotaping Police Is A First Amendment Right | PFPM We need to keep picking away at the corruption. Restoration of the 4th Amendment should be a top […]

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  5. There's some good news that should have been completely obvious already… | BradLeclerc.com - December 6, 2011

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  11. For those videotaping > Federal Court judgment - FlyerTalk Forums - December 7, 2011

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    […] Whatever… the guy was speeding and driving recklessly… deserves a ticket… move on. I don't think the officer should have drawn his weapon and I KNOW they did not have the right to raid the guy's house. The police were relying on wire tap laws. It's known as the "dual consent" law. That is, in many states, in order for you to tape my voice… BOTH of us must consent. Notice I said voice. The law is so old VIDEO wasn't even considered. The police will claim that the dude, asswipe… whatever… had no right to record the officer's voice. Here's the problem… that won't hold up in court. As many have already said… the public has a right to record/video officers while they are performing their duties. Of course, they don't like that… I probably wouldn't like that… but it IS LEGAL. Here's why I know: Federal Court Rules Videotaping Police Is A First Amendment Right | PFPM […]

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