In 1991, George Holliday recorded four white Los Angeles Police Department officers beating Black motorist Rodney King and submitted the video to the local news. Although filming police on the job was rare in the early 1990s, it has become common now, due to advances in technology and the widespread use of smartphones.
Filming the police in Maryland is generally allowed, as long as you do not interfere with their lawful duties or violate other applicable laws. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to record public officials, including law enforcement officers, in the performance of their official duties in public spaces. However, there are some important considerations to make:
- In-person conversations: The Maryland Wiretap Act permits a party to any private in-person conversation to record with consent of all parties to that conversation. However, if recording is done for the purposes of committing a criminal or tortious act, it is illegal, even with full consent.
- Public spaces: You have the right to record the police when they are performing their duties in public spaces, such as on streets, sidewalks, parks, and other areas accessible to the public. However, filming inside someone’s home or other private spaces might have different legal implications.
- Right to film: You do not need the permission of law enforcement officers to film them in public spaces, and you do not need to inform them that you are recording unless you are specifically asked. However, it may be a good practice to remain calm and respectful if questioned by an officer.
- Interference: While you have the right to film, you do not have the right to interfere with the police officers’ lawful duties. You must maintain a safe distance to not obstruct their work, get in their way, or become physically confrontational.
- Private property: When on private property, the rules may be different, and property owners or security personnel may have the authority to restrict filming. Be aware of the property’s policies and respect them.
- Recording audio: Maryland is a “two-party consent” state for audio recording. This means that both parties must consent to the recording of their private conversations. When filming the police, it’s generally best to record video without recording audio unless you have the consent of all parties being recorded.
- Federal property: When on federal property or in federal buildings, federal regulations and property rules may apply. Be aware of any posted rules and policies regarding photography and filming.
- Retaliation: Unfortunately, some individuals have faced retaliation or harassment while filming police. If you believe your rights are being violated while filming the police or if you experience retaliation for recording them, it’s advisable to document the incident, gather contact information for any witnesses, and seek legal advice.
Due to a purported increase in police brutality across the nation, technology applications and shortcuts attempt to give drivers some power against police abusing power. For example, the Apple iPhone has a convenient short-cut that allows someone being pulled over at a traffic stop to record themselves. After telling “Siri” that they are being pulled over, their iPhone will automatically dim its screen and open the front-facing camera to begin recording. Once the interaction is over, they will be able to access it later to stop recording.
Court rulings affirming the right to record law enforcement officers
Court rulings on the right to record law enforcement
While not necessarily specific to Maryland, there have been several Supreme Court and federal court rulings that support the right to record law enforcement officers as a form of protected speech under the First Amendment. These decisions apply to all states, including Maryland:
- Sharpe v. Winterville (2023): After being tased, choked, and severely beaten during a traffic stop, Dijon Sharpe decided that next time he was pulled over, he would record the incident. Ten months later, in October 2018, Sharpe, a passenger in a stopped car, began livestreaming the encounter on Facebook. When an officer saw what Sharpe was doing, he tried to grab the phone from Sharpe. Early in 2023, the Fourth Circuit held that “individuals have a First Amendment right to livestreamtheir own traffic stops.”
- Smith v. City of Cumming (2000): This Georgia federal case focused on the allegations from citizens of Cumming, Georgia that police officers violated their rights by preventing them from videotaping police actions. The court held that the First Amendment protects the right to film public officials, including police officers, while they are performing their duties in a public place.
- Turner v. Driver (2016): This federal case involved a man arrested while conducting video tape activity while standing on a public sidewalk across the street from a Texas police station. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the First Amendment protects the right to record police officers in public places, stating that “photography for the purpose of conveying a message is protected speech.”
- Glik v. Cunniffe (2011): This Massachusetts federal case involved a man who was arrested for using his cell phone’s camera to film law enforcement officers arresting a young man while standing approximately 10 feet away. It set a critical precedent by affirming the right of citizens to record police officers in public spaces, as long as they do not interfere with law enforcement activities.
These rulings have established the general principle that recording law enforcement officers in public places is protected by the First Amendment across the United States. However, laws and legal interpretations frequently change, so it’s essential to stay informed about the most current laws and regulations regarding the filming of police in Maryland.
If you have concerns or encounter any legal issues while recording law enforcement activities, look to Carey Law Office for guidance specific to your situation. We will protect your Constitutional rights and work to show the prosecution cannot prove its charges beyond a reasonable doubt. To assert your defenses and your rights, call or contact us today to schedule a consultation with an experience criminal defense attorney. We meet clients in Bowie, Crofton, Owings, and also serve Calvert County.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More