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Can I Film Police in Public?

Yes. The right to record police in public is becoming solidified in the Court system.

Last week, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that individuals have a right to film police officers while they are performing their official duties. The 3rd Circuit now joins five other Circuit Courts in holding that the First Amendment guarantees the right to record police. To date, all Circuit Courts which have ruled on the issue have been in agreement. No Federal Court has ruled otherwise and the Supreme Court has not taken up the issue.

The ruling in Fields v. Philadelphia involved two occasions where Philadelphia police retaliated against citizens who filmed/attempted to film them. In the first incident, a bystander was filming an officer arresting a protester when she was “abruptly pushed” by another officer to obstruct her from recording. The second incident involved a Temple student filming police breaking up a party. An officer arrested the student, then searched his phone. The officer then cited the student with “Obstructing Highways and Other Public Passages.” The charge was later dropped when the officer failed to show up to court. Both parties filed civil suits against the police for violating their civil rights.

In the decision, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote “officers are public officials carrying out public functions, and the First Amendment requires them to bear bystanders recording their actions. This is vital to promote the access that fosters free discussion of governmental actions.” “Civilian video also fills the gaps created when police choose not to record video or withhold their footage from the public.”

Despite the ruling in the Plaintiffs’ favor on First Amendment grounds, the officers themselves were found to be shielded from legal liability based on their qualified immunity as police officers. Nonetheless, the law has now been established in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware that an individual who films police officers in public while they are preforming their official function is not breaking the law.

If you or someone you know have had their civil rights violated, contact Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Michael F. Niznik for a free consultation. We maintain two office locations to better serve our clients and we can be reached at any time at 267-589-0601 or through our website

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