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Can You Record A Police Officer When You Are Stopped For Questioning?

Police officers, a white female and a Black male, stand in front of their police vehicle, arms folded and staring directly at the camera.

When it comes to the question of can you record a police officer when you are stopped for questioning, it is essential to understand the limitations and rights involved. The right to record law enforcement is not without restrictions, as there are specific situations where it may be illegal or unsafe to do so. Understanding these nuances is crucial for both civilians and officers. There can be significant variations between the laws of each state regarding recording law enforcement. Some states have specific laws allowing recording without consent, while others require the consent of all parties involved. Knowing the laws in New Hampshire is critical to ensure you are within your rights when recording police interactions. If you have other questions regarding your rights to record law enforcement or when being questioned, consider scheduling a consultation with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, by calling (603) 707-4800 and speaking with one of our dedicated criminal law attorneys.

Recording the Police and the First Amendment

In the United States, the First Amendment protects the right of individuals to record police officers engaging in official duties. This practice not only offers a unique perspective but also plays a crucial role in ensuring police accountability and providing vital evidence in cases of police misconduct. However, there are specific limitations on when, where, and how you can record law enforcement. For instance, if an individual is stopped by the police and chooses to record, whether or not the officer is aware, they are well within their rights to do so and to share the video. On the other hand, when recording a police officer interacting with someone else, it is crucial to explicitly state that the recording is taking place or obtain consent from the other parties.

Several cases throughout the country have highlighted instances where police officers have attempted to detain or arrest individuals for recording or have confiscated their devices. In the case of Glik v. Cunniffe in 2011, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that recording police interactions in public spaces is a well-established right for citizens and is safeguarded by the First Amendment. Similar rulings have been made by the Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuit Courts, all underscoring that recording the police is a constitutionally protected right.

When Is It Illegal To Record the Police?

Can you record a police officer anytime you want? While it is generally legal to record the police, there are times when recording law enforcement is illegal. In most instances, recording becomes illegal when it creates a safety issue or breaks another law. 

Interfering With an Officer or Creating a Safety Hazard

Recording a police officer becomes illegal if it interferes with their duties, puts anyone in danger, or violates the law. Being too close to the encounter can pose risks and disrupt the officer’s ability to carry out their tasks safely.

Violating State Wiretapping Laws That Protect Privacy

In New Hampshire, recording without consent may violate wiretapping laws, especially if it endangers someone’s life or privacy. New Hampshire’s law regarding regarding in-person or telephone conversations states that both parties to the conversation must consent. While this seems contradictory to the First Amendment right to record law enforcement, this is not always the case. Because there is no expectation of privacy in a public location, it may not be necessary to gain the consent of others before recording a police officer. If an officer is on private property, the circumstances may be different. For example, if the officer is at a private residence and arresting the homeowner per an arrest warrant, the homeowner’s friend may need consent to record from both parties. Understanding RSA 570-A. Wiretapping and Eavesdropping and when it is legal or illegal to record is crucial to avoid legal consequences when recording law enforcement activities.

Recording on Private Property

Recording police on private property without authorization can lead to legal issues. While individuals may record police officers in public locations, the same is not necessarily true on private property. For example, the homeowner being arrested may have concerns about their address being visible in the recording. To prevent potential legal implications, it is essential to respect property rights and restrictions when capturing police interactions.

When Recording Constitutes Some Other Crime

Certain actions, such as failing to comply with an officer’s orders, trespassing, or stalking, can make recording the police illegal. In some instances, the recording itself may still be legal but the actions the individual has engaged in to make the recording are illegal. Understanding the boundaries of lawful recording is essential to avoid engaging in activities that could result in criminal charges.

Can You Record the Police When They Are Detaining or Arresting You?

When detained or arrested by the police, individuals may still have the right to record the encounter, provided they do not interfere with the officers’ duties or create safety hazards. Respecting the boundaries set forth by law enforcement is crucial in such situations to avoid any legal repercussions. Here are some essential aspects to consider when recording the police during a detainment or arrest:

  • Obstruction of Justice: If the act of recording impedes the officers from performing their duties or affects the safety of those involved, it may be considered illegal. Individuals being detained or arrested by police may want to ask a friend or nearby witness to record on their behalf to avoid this.
  • Compliance: It is essential to follow any lawful commands given by the police during the detainment or arrest to prevent the situation from escalating.
  • Privacy Concerns: Ensure that the recording is focused on the interaction with law enforcement and does not intrude on the privacy of others present at the scene.

Individuals in New Hampshire must be aware of their rights and responsibilities when recording the police during a detainment or arrest. Understanding the legal implications and potential consequences of recording these interactions is crucial for safeguarding the individual’s rights, as well as the rights of others, and promoting accountability in law enforcement activities. If you have been charged with obstruction of justice or face other legal trouble as a result of recording law enforcement, an experienced attorney with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, may be able to assist you. If you have a conviction that resulted from recording a police officer, they may also be able to discuss the possibility of expunging your criminal record. 

What Happens If the Officer Tells You To Stop Recording or Retaliates Against You?

Even if a police officer is not doing anything illegal, they may not want their interactions with others recorded. An officer may ask an individual to stop recording, but can you record a police officer even after they have asked you to stop? 

If an Officer Tells You To Stop Recording

In the scenario where an officer instructs the individual to halt their recording, the person should politely and calmly inform the officer that they are exercising their First Amendment right. Resist the urge to engage in any unnecessary arguments or physical altercations. Maintain a safe distance, and continue recording as long as it is not obstructing the officer’s duties.

If an Officer Demands Your Phone

Knowing their rights when an officer demands to confiscate or view the content on an individual’s phone is vital. The individual should politely but firmly refuse to hand over their device unless the officer can present a valid warrant or arrests the individual. They should also understand that unless there is a legal basis to do so, the police cannot seize or delete any recordings without proper authorization.

How Can I Safely Record the Police?

When recording the police, safety should be a top priority. To ensure that recording is done safely and within legal boundaries, here are some key tips to consider:

  • Maintain a safe distance: When recording, it is crucial to stay a reasonable distance away from the police officers. This helps prevent interference with their duties and reduces the risk of any safety hazards. Approaching too closely could escalate the situation and lead to issues.
  • Remain silent: While recording, it is advisable to stay silent. Avoid engaging in verbal altercations or providing unnecessary provocation. Remaining quiet can help de-escalate tense situations and focus on capturing relevant footage.
  • Recording openly: Transparency is key when recording the police. Ensure that law enforcement is aware of your actions and purpose. Keeping the recording device visible and obvious can help establish good faith and prevent any misunderstandings.

By following these guidelines, individuals can safely exercise their right to record the police, minimizing potential legal and safety risks.

Other Factors To Know While Recording

When recording a police officer, New Hampshire residents should be aware of a few additional points to ensure a safe and legally sound recording experience. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Stay Calm and Composed: Maintaining composure and avoiding interfering with the officer’s duties is crucial. Remain silent and let the camera do the talking.
  • Observe from a Distance: Keeping a safe distance from the police activity is vital to prevent any misunderstandings or accusations of interference. Respect the officer’s space and avoid obstructing their work.
  • Be Mindful of Audio Recording: In addition to capturing video footage, adding an audio component can provide a more comprehensive record of the encounter. Make sure to capture both visual and auditory information when legally permissible.
  • Seek Witnesses: If possible, ask a bystander or a friend to record the interaction instead of holding the camera yourself when you are the one being questioned. Having an external observer can add an extra layer of protection and transparency to the recording.
  • Understand Legal Boundaries: While filming police activities is generally protected under the First Amendment, avoid obstructing the officers or jeopardizing anyone’s safety in the process. 
  • Sharing and Preserving Evidence: If a witness records the incident, ensure they share the video with you afterward for your records and potential legal proceedings. Preserving evidence is crucial in case the footage is needed in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

This is a summary of the frequently asked questions regarding recording a police officer when you are stopped for questioning. 

Is it legal to film police in New Hampshire?

Yes, in New Hampshire, it is legal to film police as long as you are in a public space and not interfering with their duties. Recording law enforcement can promote transparency and accountability.

Can police ask you to stop recording?

Police may ask you to stop recording, but as long as you are in a public space and are not interfering with their work, you have the right to continue filming. Remember to stay calm and respectful.

Are you allowed to record police in all states?

Generally, the First Amendment protects your right to record police officers in public across all states, as long as you are not obstructing their duties.

Can police confiscate your phone in New Hampshire?

In New Hampshire, police cannot seize your phone without a valid reason or warrant, especially if you are recording them in a public place.

What should I do if police confront me for filming them?

Stay calm, assert your rights politely, maintain a safe distance, and consider having witnesses around for added protection. Preserve any evidence, like recordings, and seek legal advice if needed.

Schedule a Free Case Review Today

Can you record a police officer when you are being questioned or at other times? Yes, but being informed about recording rights and responsibilities is crucial for individuals looking to document police encounters safely. By following the recommended guidelines, residents can confidently exercise their right to record law enforcement activities while minimizing risks. Taking proactive measures not only empowers individuals to hold law enforcement accountable but also contribute to fostering transparency and accountability within policing. If you have other questions regarding recording law enforcement or have had your rights violated when recording officers, a seasoned criminal attorney with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC, may be able to guide you. Call their office at (603) 707-4800 to schedule your consultation and find out about your legal rights and options. 


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About the Attorney
Jesse Friedman

Jesse has personally represented thousands of clients throughout the State - from juvenile delinquency offenses through homicides. He has extensive trial and litigation experience and has obtained favorable outcomes for thousands of clients throughout the years.

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