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Is It Legal to Film Police Officers in Texas?

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Thanks to the rise of smart technology and social media, nearly all of us have seen videos of egregious police behavior. From unjustified arrests to planting false evidence, bad cops who abuse their power can destroy an innocent person’s life.

While you’ve seen dozens of examples online, you’ve probably seen just as many individuals getting harassed by officers for attempting to film their activities. That likely has you wondering – is it legal to film police officers in Texas? What happens if an officer attempts to take your cellphone or orders you to delete a video you took? Can you get arrested for filming the police?

Learn everything you need to know about your rights and an officer’s authority when it comes to filming their activities below.

What Rights Do I Have to Film Police in Texas?

Experts estimate that a whopping 96% of Americans own a cellphone now, and about 81% of those cellphones are equipped with smart technology. As a result, it’s easier than ever before to simply whip out your phone and begin taking video and audio recordings of a situation that’s unfolding.

The ability to freely record individuals (including police) has been hotly debated in courts for years. The courts have consistently ruled that filming the police is a form of free speech. The First Amendment of the Constitution explains that individuals have a right to speak freely.

The Department of Justice has upheld the notion that filming police is considered a free speech activity. They’ve also reinforced the idea that charging an individual who is recording police with crimes is considered retaliation against a person’s First Amendment rights.

Were you arrested for filming police? Attorney Brett Podolsky can help »

What Special Considerations Do I Need to Know About?

In most situations, filming the police falls under the scope of free speech. There are a few special considerations that you need to know about, though, that restrict this right in Texas.

According to Texas Penal Code 38.15, you cannot record the police in a way that interferes with the officer while they’re performing official duties. If the officer is acting reasonably and doing their job, then you can’t attempt to disrupt or impede their duties by getting in the way.

That means you can’t step between the officer and suspect, harass the officer or otherwise interfere with the police officers. If you do, then the officer can arrest you.

Another important consideration is where you are when you attempt to film the police. If the incident is occurring on private property, then the property owner can ask you to leave or stop filming. If you’re on public property, then you generally have the right to film.

What If Police Try to Take My Cell Phone?

Did the police officer tell you they needed to confiscate your phone without arresting you? If so, then the police officer is violating your Fourth Amendment rights. You have the right to be free of unlawful search and seizures, and this protects you from getting your cell phone taken from you.

In general, an officer cannot demand that you hand over your phone as evidence. There are a few circumstances in which the courts would approve such an action, though. Here’s what would make a phone confiscation legal:

  • The officer has a warrant for the phone
  • The officer has a reasonable and good-faith belief that the video contains evidence of criminal behavior (not including their own)

It’s also illegal for an officer to demand that you delete photographs or videos from your cell phone. If they take your phone and delete content, then they’ve violated the law.

What Crimes Can I Get Charged with for Filming Police?

In Texas, you generally have the right to film police as long as you aren’t interfering with the officers or committing another crime taking the video. Despite the law, some officers have attempted to detain and arrest Texans for filming them. Here’s an overview of the most common crimes you can get charged with for filming the police:

  • Disorderly conduct (Class C Misdemeanor)
  • Interfering with public duties (Class B Misdemeanor)
  • Obstructing a highway or passageway (Class B Misdemeanor)
  • Resisting arrest or search (Class A misdemeanor)

A Class C misdemeanor can result in fines of up to $500, whereas a Class A misdemeanor could mean up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines.

Steps to Take if Police Deny Your Right to Film

If you’re filming or taking photographs of police activity, then they may attempt to approach you. They could simply ask you questions, or they could take things further and start making unreasonable demands. In the worst situations, they may even attempt to arrest you. Here’s what you should do if police approach you when you’re attempting to film them:

  • Be polite with the officer
  • Do not physically resist the officer
  • Do not hand over your phone
  • Ask the officer, “Am I free to go, or am I being detained?”
  • Inform the officer that filming them is an expression of your First Amendment rights
  • Do not interfere with the officer’s duties in any way

Remain respectful, and don’t resist the officers even if you know they’re not following the law. If the officer is out of line, then you do have legal recourse.

How Do I Defend Myself If I’m Arrested?

Do you believe you were wrongfully arrested? If so, then it’s important to hire legal representation as soon as possible. A good lawyer will help you recover your cell phone, defend you in court and help you get your charges dismissed. Depending on your situation, you may also be able to seek out a wrongful arrest claim against the officer or police department that arrested you.

Learn how a criminal defense attorney can help. Get your free ebook today »

To Film or Not to Film: That is the Question

In a civilized society, the police are supposed to be upstanding citizens who uphold the law. Upholding the law, though, also means obeying it themselves. Many police officers abuse the power that comes along with a badge.

If you encounter an abusive cop in Texas, then you’re in a sticky situation. Not only could an officer wrongfully accuse you of committing a crime, but they’ll also have sway with a judge and jury due to their position as a police officer. It can become a ‘he-said-she-said’ situation very quickly, and your word won’t hold as much weight as an officer’s.

Due to that fact, more Texans have decided to turn on their smartphones and record police interactions as a way of protecting their rights. If you choose to film an abusive officer in action, then there’s a good chance that the police officer will attempt to stop you. Know your rights, but also realize your limitations when it comes to filming.

If you were arrested and wrongfully accused of a crime after filming an officer, then you need to hire representation right away. Don’t feel forced to accept your charges, and don’t feel as if you don’t have the option of fighting back. Our lawyers are prepared to take on your case and defend you in the event you get arrested or your property gets seized. Reach out to us now to get started on your case. 

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