Robert S. Muir, Attorney at Law
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Am I allowed to video a police encounter?

Although probably much harder to do even one generation ago, people in Pennsylvania, including college students in the Indiana area, are able to take all kinds of videos of the scenes the encounter. All they have to do is pull out their phones.

Many young people have used these opportunities to take videos of the police making arrests or otherwise having encounters with citizens. Not surprisingly, some of these encounters are confrontational or even hostile.

For whatever reason, some officers do not like having the public video them while they work. Perhaps they feel that the video will be taken out of context and used to cast them in a negative light or even try to pursue a legal action against them. At other times, it may just be an added distraction to work which requires a lot of attention and alertness.

However, as has been summarized in at least one media report, a federal appellate court which serves Pennsylvania recently held that citizens have a First Amendment right to video on-duty police officers engaging citizens.

Those who choose to make these videos must follow other applicable laws when doing so, but officers cannot legally order them to stop videoing or make an arrest on the basis that a person was videoing them, even if the official grounds for the arrest is something like disorderly conduct.

The federal court's decision only confirms the same position several other federal courts have taken with respect to this issue, which is somewhat likely to arise in the context of campus crimes. Basically, students need not fear to stand up for themselves by videoing encounters between their peers and police. These sorts of videos can even be valuable evidence in mounting a criminal defense.

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