Can You Record the Police in South Carolina?

Years ago, defendants had less credibility when their word went against that of a law enforcement officer. However, times have changed. Today, bystander recordings are almost commonplace; most people have a cell phone on hand and can easily take videos of interactions between officers and the public. Can you record police officers lawfully, though?

While the short answer is yes, there are many gray areas when it comes to recording law enforcement. Call our Columbia criminal defense lawyers at Shealey Law Firm to learn more about the rules surrounding recordings in South Carolina.

Can You Record Police Officers Legally?

Generally, yes. It is legal to record the police performing their duties in a public place. The South Carolina recording laws state that the one-party consent rule applies. It allows people to record someone as long as one party, including the one recording, consents.

What Are Some Important Qualifications?

The law does not mean that people can freely record the police at all times or under all circumstances. Some qualifications apply.

The action recorded must be in public

Your recording must occur in a public location, such as a shopping center, sidewalk, or street. You cannot record in a private location, such as someone’s home. You would have to obtain consent to do so. It is unlikely that an officer or the other parties involved would permit you to make an audio or video recording.

You must record safely

You can record police officers only if it is done safely. For example, you can stand on a sidewalk and record from a distance, however, you are not allowed to stand in the middle of a busy highway to obtain a recording, as that could pose a danger to yourself or others.

It can help to display your actions. Instead of hiding your device, hold it in front of you so that law enforcement can see it. This step can protect your safety.

Are There Legal Limitations When Filming Police?

There are certain times when you cannot legally record a police officer. You must avoid getting in the way when they are doing their jobs.

You cannot interfere with official police business

Your activity cannot interfere with the actions of the police. To ensure you make a safe and lawful recording, maintain a distance from the officers and don’t yell at or distract them. Officers must be able to communicate with suspects and bystanders.

Recording the police without interrupting their official business protects everyone involved. It prevents them from destroying evidence and allows law enforcement to focus on keeping everyone safe.

You cannot livestream your recording

Live streaming can be a method of impeding police business. When you avoid live streaming, you protect sensitive information and avoid tipping off suspects.

Can You Be Arrested if You Record Police?

Can you record police officers and get arrested for it? Yes, police can arrest you while you are recording them. It may happen for a couple of reasons. First, the officer might not understand that you are within your rights to record an officer’s actions (as long as you are legally doing so).

Secondly, officers sometimes arrest citizens even when they are doing something permissible. This may be the case, especially if the officer does something unlawful and wants to cover up these actions.

While it is lawful to resist arrest in South Carolina, you must exercise caution. Resisting arrest can result in injury or charges filed against you.

What Are Your First Amendment Rights?

The courts have consistently upheld citizens’ right to record police officers performing their duties in a public place.

They consider this a First Amendment right and it generally includes audio and video recordings. The Fourth Circuit, which includes the state of South Carolina, has not directly addressed the right to record as applied to the First Amendment.

Should You Seek Legal Counsel To Protect Your Rights?

You may benefit from talking to an attorney about your rights. While the law says you can record police officers under legal parameters, the interpretation can have some gray areas.

The courts generally determine when officers are within their rights to stop someone from recording them.

Individuals may have different ideas about interference with police business. Also, an officer can say that recording caused a situation to escalate.

Is it legal to record a police officer during a traffic stop? It can be, but it depends on the circumstances surrounding the stop. With so many possibilities, you may want to talk to an attorney about your situation.

Contact a Seasoned Columbia Criminal Defense Attorney To Learn How You Can Record Police Officers Legally

The attorneys at Shealey Law Firm understand the South Carolina laws surrounding legal recordings. We also realize that individuals may interpret the laws in different ways. If you’d like to discuss whether you can record police officers lawfully in your circumstances, give us a call today to see how we can help.


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