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Are North Carolina citizens at risk when taping a police encounter?

Its seems that, almost on a daily basis, cellphone recordings of questionable police encounters are being broadcast far and wide on television and the Internet. One recent and particularly jarring example of such an encounter involved cellphone footage of a police officer shooting and killing an unarmed man as he attempted to flee on foot after a traffic stop.

In this case, video footage of the incident tends to show that the officer used excessive and unnecessary force. The police officer was subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of the 50-year-old man.

North Carolina citizens are legally entitled to record any encounter as long as it does not interfere with the law enforcement process.  They may also do it secretly as no permission is needed.  

It should also be noted that under NC law, one party may record a conversation that they are party to, without the knowledge or consent of any other party or parties to the conversation.  This is distinguishable from other states which require all participants to consent to the recording.  

In the wake of cellphone footage of this and other recent acts of excessive police force, there has been much outrage and calls for police officers throughout the country to wear body cameras.

We previously reported on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's plans to institute police body cameras starting in March of this year. However, while laws governing and use of police body cameras continues to gain clarity and support throughout North Carolina, those related to the rights of private citizens to record police encounters remain unclear.

As troubling videos of police encounters continue to surface, it's clear that cellphones play an important role in providing evidence of excessive police force and brutality. However, to date, there is no law on the books in North Carolina that either sanctions or prohibits an individual from videotaping a police encounter.

Unfortunately, the lack of legal guidance and precedence in this matter affords officers much power and discretion when attempting to intimidate or stop individuals from taping encounters. In some cases, altercations between citizens and police officers over cellphone tapings may end in an arrest.

Individuals who have been arrested and are facing criminal charges related to an altercation with police officers over cellphone footage, would be wise to contact a criminal defense attorney.

Source: WCNC.com, "NC law is hazy when it comes to filming officers," Glenn Counts, April 21, 2015

The Washington Post, The police officer who shot Walter Scott probably won't face the death penalty," Mark Berman, April 14, 2015

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