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Filming police activity is often not against the law

After a series of high-profile police killings of unarmed black men, more citizens seeking to hold police accountable for their actions are asking whether they can capture police activity on their cellphones without fear of arrest. Thanks to different cellphone videos, people all over the world were able to see the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York police as they attempted to arrest him for selling cigarettes illegally. One video shows him lying on the ground for six minutes as officers stand by waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

There is a common misconception that it is illegal to film police officers while they are working. That misconception has likely been fed by instances of officers ordering people to stop filming, confiscating their phones and even arresting them.

Even some police may not be aware that in many cases, citizens are perfectly within their legal rights in every state to film officers on the job. In fact, late last year, the New York Police Department sent a memo to its officers reminding them that "[m]embers of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions." It goes on to say, "Intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment."

In court challenges to the laws regarding the filming of police activity, judges have ruled that officers have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public. There are a few important rules to remember if you film a police encounter. A person cannot interfere with an officer's ability to do his or her job. Further, the recording must be made in a public space, and it may not be done surreptitiously. However, one attorney notes that "assuming the position of holding up a camera or phone at arm's length while looking at the viewing screen should be enough to put someone on notice that they are being photographed or recorded."

Anyone who is arrested or suffers other consequences for filming police may well have the law or his or her side. That's why it's essential to consult an experienced Georgia criminal defense attorney who can protect your legal rights.

Source: Huffington Post, "It's Perfectly Legal To Film The Cops" Saki Knafo and Carly Schwartz, Dec. 28, 2014

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