As cameras become a ubiquitous part of our lives, the power to film is always at our fingertips. Videos posted on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook have become supplements to traditional media sources, and for some, have replaced mainstream media entirely. It comes as no surprise then that individuals now regularly record police officers, which raises the question, “Can you photograph, audio, or video record police in Texas?”
The short and easy answer is yes. You may record police activity that takes place in public as long as you do not interfere with officers’ official duties. A 2015 decision out of a federal district court in Texas held that documenting police activity is a clearly established right protected by the First Amendment. In Buehler v. City of Austin, Judge Mark Lane wrote an opinion outlining the reasons why private citizens have the right to record police activities in public:
“A private citizen has the right to assemble in a public forum, receive information on a matter of public concern —such as police officers performing their official duties — and to record that information for the purpose of conveying that information.” — U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane
The United States Department of Justice has also addressed the issue of whether individuals have a First Amendment right to record police officers. The Justice Department has concluded that citizens do have a right to record police officers’ activity in public and has expressed concern that charging individuals with offenses such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest could be used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights.
Justice Department attorneys have also pointed out that there are a number of offenses a person might be charged with while recording officers. Some examples of possible offenses in Texas include, obedience required to police officers and to school crossing guards; disorderly conduct; interference with public duties; obstruction of highway or other passageway; or resisting arrest, search, or transport. More information about these offenses and their punishment ranges can be found in the chart below.
|OFFENSE||ACTION||PUNISHMENT||PENAL CODE SECTION|
|Obedience Required to Police Officers||Willfully fails or refuses to comply with a lawful order or direction of a police officer||Misdemeanor:
||Tex. Tn. Code Ann §541.501|
|Disorderly Conduct||Intentionally or knowingly makes an offensive gesture or display in a public place which tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace.||Class C Misdemeanor:
||Tex. Pen. Code Ann. §42.01|
|Interference with Public Duties||With criminal negligence interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a legal duty.*Note: the action must be more than just speech.||Class B Misdemeanor:
|Tex. Pen. Code Ann. §38.15|
|Obstructing Highway or Passageway||Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly obstructs a highway, street, sidewalk, (etc.) regardless of the means of creating the obstruction; or disobeys a reasonable request or order to move from a peace officer, fireman, or person with authority.||Class B Misdemeanor:
|Tex. Pen. Code Ann. §42.03|
|Resisting Arrest, Search, or Transportation||Intentionally prevents or obstructs a peace officer from arresting, searching, or transporting the person or another person by using force against the peace officer.*Note: it doesn’t matter if the arrest, search, or transportation is unlawful.||Class A Misdemeanor:
|Tex. Pen. Code Ann. §38.03|
While you have the legal right to photograph, film, or record a police officer in public, if you aren’t careful, you may be accused of committing a crime. If you are arrested for recording the police in Texas, or if you had your recording equipment destroyed or confiscated by the police, contact our attorneys at 817-203-2220.