Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Am I allowed to videotape an interaction with police? Can they make me stop filming?”
North Carolina now joins the ranks of other states attempting to block the release of potentially inflammatory body camera footage. Earlier this month the governor, Pat McCrory, signed a bill into law that prevents law enforcement recordings, either from body cameras or dashboard cameras, from being released, except with very narrow exceptions. Though some officers have cheered the news, many other groups, including the ACLU and the state’s attorney general have offered criticism, saying the new law makes it harder to hold law enforcement accountable in the event of the use of excessive force.
The legislation at issue is House Bill 972. The measure says that all audio and video recordings that are captured by police officers or their dashboard cameras will no longer be deemed public records. Though this may not seem very important, the distinction matters a great deal. The reason is that the public loses its right to view records that are not public. The law says that a person whose image or voice is captured on a recording may request in writing that it be disclosed. If the law enforcement agency grants the request (and this is a big if), then the person can only look at the recording, he or she cannot get a copy of the recording or distribute it to the public.
What happens if the footage is important and needs to be made public or used, for instance, in a lawsuit? In that case the person who is recorded will need to sue the law enforcement agency and convince a judge that the footage should be released publicly. Though this is certainly restrictive, Governor McCrory claims that it is an attempt to bring clarity to an otherwise muddy issue. McCrory also noted that while dashboard and body camera footage can be helpful, it can also be misleading and lead people to jump to conclusions before the full details have been made available.
The ACLU has been one group vocally opposed to the measure saying that the law is terrible and that, as an absolute minimum, individuals who are the subjects of a recording should be able to view the footage and request a copy. The ACLU says potential victims of police violence should not be forced to spend the time and money required to force the police department to court and require them to release the footage. This hurdle makes it far less likely that anyone will take such a step meaning it is far less likely such footage, which has undoubtedly had important effects, will continue to be released publicly.
Those who are opposed to the new law say that their principle opposition is that it undercuts the basis for having such dashboard cameras and body cameras in the first place. The intention was to create accountability, with officers knowing that what they said and did was being recorded and could later be made public. It was hoped this would clear up disputes and make it easier for victims of police violence to have their claims verified and taken seriously. If the recordings are all now going to be hidden, it’s hard to see how police will be as easily forced to publicly account for their actions.
If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Our attorneys stand at the ready to defend you against state or federal charges. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.
About the Author
Brad Smith is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense.
Mr. Smith was born and raised in Charlotte. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney before entering private practice in 2006.
In his free time, Mr. Smith enjoys traveling, boating, golf, hiking and spending time with his wife and three children.
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