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Is It Illegal to Record the Police in South Carolina?

Is It Illegal to Record the Police in South Carolina?

Is It Illegal to Record the Police in South Carolina?

In modern-day America, the national conversation surrounding police misconduct and racial violence has taken center stage. Today’s digital era has led to a growing influx of electronic evidence from civilians. While police officers have historically been taken at their word, recordings and video footage taken by civilians have challenged questionable deaths involving suspects killed by law enforcement, especially after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Can citizens legally record the police? In this blog, we’ll explore the laws pertaining to the filming or recording of law enforcement in South Carolina.

Is It Legal for Civilians to Record Law Enforcement?

Recording police encounters serves as a means of accountability and transparency, allowing citizens to document potential misconduct or violations of their rights. However, recent events have sparked debates about updating the laws surrounding recording police officers to ensure more transparency and accountability.

Like many states, South Carolina upholds certain laws to govern the act of filming or recording police officers. While this is a controversial issue that has been a hot topic of national debate, particularly in recent years, there are concrete legal steps that accused individuals can take if they suspect they’ve been unfairly charged, arrested, or otherwise had their constitutional rights infringed upon.

Can I Get Arrested for Recording Police in SC?

Yes. Put simply, it’s possible to be arrested for recording police in South Carolina, but this doesn’t mean that every arrest is lawful. Although there are no specific laws criminalizing the act of recording police officers, civilians can still encounter complex legal challenges, however undeserved these difficulties may be.

In certain cases, police misconduct can result in innocent citizens reaping unfair legal penalties, such as being charged with obstruction of justice or disorderly conduct. If you think you’ve been unfairly charged with a criminal or civil offense following an altercation with South Carolina police, it’s imperative to seek aggressive defense from a skilled attorney as soon as possible to avoid life-altering penalties in court.

Recording Police: Your First Amendment Rights

Courts have consistently upheld citizens’ First Amendment rights when it comes to recording altercations with police. Under the First Amendment, civilians generally have the right to film or record police officers as they perform their duties in public spaces.

South Carolina is a one-party consent state, meaning that as long as one party consents to the recording—including yourself, so long as you're an active participant in the conversation—then it's within your right to do so.

Recording Police Encounters in Public Spaces

Generally, you can legally record police officers in public spaces without consent in South Carolina. Citizens have the right to document interactions with law enforcement so long as they don’t interfere with police duties or violate any other laws in the process. It’s crucial for South Carolina civilians to maintain a safe distance to avoid obstructing or interfering with a police officer's actions while recording. It’s important to stay calm and respectful throughout the encounter when possible to avoid reaping any unfair penalties.

Recording Police Encounters in Private Spaces

When it comes to recording police in private, the law is often murkier and more complex than those applying to public encounters. Under South Carolina law, it’s illegal for citizens to film or record police in private spaces or the inside of private buildings without first obtaining legally effective consent. This means that recording police officers in private locations without consent, such as their home or other location entailing a reasonable expectation of privacy, can lead to arrest and result in legal penalties.

Legal Limitations When Filming Police

In most cases, civilians are lawfully permitted to record or film law enforcement personnel when the following conditions apply:

  • You aren’t interfering with law enforcement duties. Bystanders can’t obstruct police from carrying out their professional responsibilities. Examples include getting too close with a camera or shouting at officers during altercations.
  • You aren’t endangering the safety of yourself or others. Witnesses who choose to film or record law enforcement cannot do so if it endangers themselves or others around them, including law enforcement personnel.
  • You aren’t live-streaming sensitive information. In some cases, recording footage in live time (such as through Facebook or Instagram Live) can jeopardize law enforcement by tipping off suspects or exposing sensitive information. In these cases, police may be lawfully entitled to stop recordings by force if needed.

Generally, it is not illegal to record law enforcement without consent while in a public space. Citizens may also record their own encounters with police (such as in a DUI stop).

Can the Police Make You Stop Filming?

Yes, but this area of the law can be especially gray. Interpreting the right of law enforcement to cease recordings is largely at the discretion of the court and requires a comprehensive assessment of the case in question. For example, defining the term “interference with law enforcement duties” can vary widely depending on who you ask.

In these cases, there are rarely clear-cut answers. Even civilians who suspect their rights were infringed upon by law enforcement can lack credible legal arguments if police can prove otherwise, such as if the recording was believed to incite violence or heighten a volatile situation.

Contact a Seasoned Lexington Defense Attorney

Our experienced criminal defense attorneys have successfully handled thousands of cases in Lexington and beyond. If you’re facing criminal charges in South Carolina, you deserve skilled representation to restore your freedom and clear your good name. At the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC, we believe that everyone is worthy of second chances. Reach out to our firm to learn how we can prioritize your unique needs and work to get the charges against you reduced or dropped in South Carolina.

Preparing for criminal court can be daunting. Secure the strong defense you deserve. Call (803) 359-3301 to request a free consultation.


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