By Robert C. Phillips, Deputy District Attorney (Ret)
I am periodically asked whether officers can legally seize from private citizens videotaped or photographed evidence depicting criminal acts. Such videos or photos are commonly contained in a private citizen’s video camera, cellphone, or iPad. The video or photographic evidence typically is recorded by an uninvolved private citizen (although it may be the suspect himself) who either happened upon the scene of some incident or is a participant in a public protest or demonstration. The video or photo may be of a criminal act in progress or of an officer’s use of force upon a suspect, or both.
The question I get is; “If the citizen objects, can I legally seize such photographic, video or tape-recorded evidence anyway?” My answer to this question has for a long time been: “I haven’t the faintest idea.” But recently, we finally got a case on point that describes what we can do legally in such a circumstance.
Related to this problem is when a person is discovered videotaping or photographing the entrances or exits to a police facility or some on-going police activity. The temptation is to stop that person and find out what he is doing and why, or even impede the person in his videotaping efforts. Please click below to read the full bulletin.