A recent U.S. Magistrate Judge's ruling in California expanded the rights of citizens who want to record police officers searching their homes.
In February 2011, plaintiff Mary Crago was visited by three police officers, including defendant Officer Kenneth Leonard. Leonard was working on the Sacramento Police Department's Metal Theft Task Force, and he was tipped off that Crago may have been involved in a theft involving a vehicle battery.
Crago was on probation and didn't fight the search, but she did record the officers on her laptop. The police ended up finding drugs in her purse, and Officer Leonard deleted the video off of the laptop saying her recording was illegal. But, it wasn't.
In a lawsuit filed by Crago, she claimed the recording was protected by her First Amendment rights. A Federal Appeals Court ruling in May already gave citizens the right to record police in public, but Officer Leonard argued that this right doesn't exist in private residences. He also said that Crago didn't have the same rights to record because she was on probation, but, the judge didn't agree with the officer.
To the contrary, there appears to be an even greater interest for such recordings when a police officer’s actions are shielded from the public’s view. Further, there is no reason to believe that plaintiff’s status as a probationer would diminish the public’s interest in how police exercise their authority in a private citizen’s home.
The decision stated that if people are allowed to record police in public, then that right should transfer to their homes, too.
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