Appeals court rules First Amendment protects cell phone video of cops on duty

By Scott Kaufman
Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:11 EDT
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The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that American citizens have the right to film police officers in public.

The federal appeals court declared that Carla Gericke was exercising her First Amendment right when she attempted to film a late-night traffic stop. Gericke was driving behind Tyler Hanslin, because she did not know the way to his home. When she saw police lights flash behind her, she assumed she was being hailed and pulled over.

Sergeant Joseph Kelley approached her vehicle and told her that he had meant to pull Hanslin over, and she moved her vehicle to a nearby parking lot. Once there, she exited her vehicle and approached Hanslin’s with her video camera, informing Sergeant Kelley that she was going to record the encounter. Sergeant Kelley ordered her back to her car, and she complied.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Brandon Montplaisir arrived at the scene, and he approached Gericke and demanded to know where her video camera was. When she refused to tell him, he arrested for her disobeying a police officer. At the station, officers also charged her with unlawful interception of oral communication.

Both charges were eventually dropped.

In her suit, Gericke claimed that the wiretapping charge “constituted retaliatory prosecution in violation of her First Amendment rights,” and the First Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, writing that “she was exercising a clearly established First Amendment right when she attempted to film the traffic stop in the absence of a police order to stop filming or leave the area.”

“It is clearly established in this circuit that police officers cannot, consistently with the Constitution, prosecute citizens for violating wiretapping laws when they peacefully record a police officer performing his or her official duties in a public area,” the appeals court said.

The First Circuit Court’s decision means that Gericke’s lawsuit against the Weare Police Department for retaliatory prosecution in breach of her constitutionally guaranteed rights can proceed.

["Woman recording police" on Shutterstock]

Scott Kaufman
Scott Kaufman
Scott Eric Kaufman is the proprietor of the AV Club's Internet Film School and, in addition to Raw Story, also writes for Lawyers, Guns & Money. He earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California, Irvine in 2008.
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