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Is it legal to record your own traffic stop?

The ability of people to record police encounters – whether someone else’s or their own – by simply pressing a button on their phone has no doubt provided valuable evidence of what many people have been saying for years – that officers don’t always follow the laws they’re required to uphold. 

These days, people are quick to pull out their phones to record a nearby police encounter. They often hope this will help prevent things from escalating and provide eyewitness documentation if they do.

What have the courts ruled?

If you’re the one getting stopped or pulled over, however, are you allowed to record the interaction? Courts have typically ruled in favor of a person’s right to record police as long as they’re in a public place and the person recording isn’t interfering with officers’ ability to do their job.

Further, according to the Louisiana Reporter’s Recording Guide, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Louisiana, has held that there is a First Amendment right to record, including the right to film and audio record the police, subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.”

Whether it’s advisable is another question

Does that mean it’s wise (or safe) to pull out your phone when an officer pulls you over for a traffic stop? Let’s look at it from the officer’s point of view. You could be reaching for a weapon rather than your phone.

Further, you’ve already escalated the situation when maybe they were just prepared to cite you for a broken taillight or let you know you have a flat tire. It could prompt an officer to look a little more carefully inside your car than they otherwise would have. An officer who isn’t interested in following the rules could grab your phone and potentially find a reason to arrest you if you object.

The bottom line is that the act of simply recording your traffic stop, with or without an officer’s knowledge or consent, isn’t illegal. If you’re facing criminal charges related to your attempt to record a traffic stop or other police encounter – whether in addition to other charges or not – it’s wise to seek legal guidance. This can help you protect your rights.