Fourth Circuit Rules that the First Amendment May Protect a Vehicle Occupant’s Right to Livestream a Traffic Stop

Several years ago, two officers working for the Winterville Police Department stopped a car for a traffic violation. Dijon Sharpe was a passenger in the vehicle. Sharpe had some prior negative interactions with police, so he began using his phone to livestream the stop on Facebook Live. One of the officers saw what Sharpe was doing and attempted to grab the phone, saying “We ain’t gonna do Facebook Live, because that’s an officer safety issue.” Sharpe held on to the phone and continued to livestream the stop. One of the officers told him that recording the stop was fine, but that livestreaming was not permissible and that “in the future,” if he attempted to livestream a stop, his phone would be taken from him. Sharpe subsequently sued, contending that the officers violated his First Amendment rights by trying to prevent him from livestreaming the stop. A federal district court dismissed his complaint. Sharpe appealed, and the Fourth Circuit recently issued a significant opinion in the case. Read on to find out what the court said.

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Is a Written Transcript the “Best Evidence” of a Recording?

Shocking videos on sites like Faceboook Live may dominate the headlines (see examples here and here), but criminal attorneys know that the humble, old-fashioned audio recording still plays a large role in many cases. The state’s evidence at trial might include recordings of jail calls, witness interviews, 911 calls, suspect interrogations, wiretap intercepts, controlled buys, incriminating voicemails, and more. To aid in presenting that evidence to the jury (especially when the quality or volume of the recording is less than ideal), some prosecutors also prepare and introduce a written transcript of what was said on the tape.

That raises a tough question: Does the introduction of a transcript of an audio recording run afoul of the “best evidence” rule? There are cases that go both ways on this issue, and at first glance the rule seems to be something along the lines of “it is a violation, except when it isn’t, and sometimes maybe it doesn’t matter anyway.”

Let’s try to clean that up a little.

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Ferguson and Cameras

According to the New York Times, the governor of Missouri is now deploying the National Guard in an “effort[] to quell unrest” resulting from a white police officer’s shooting of a black teenager in the city of Ferguson. It seems to me that much of the “unrest” is a result of a lack of factual … Read more

Google Glass, Recordings, and the Law

CNET is reporting that an Ohio man went to a movie theater wearing Google Glass. Halfway through Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, an FBI agent approached him, flashed a badge, took his Google Glass, and ordered him out of the theater. Several agents questioned the man about whether he was recording the film, which the man … Read more

Police Use of New Recording Technologies

There’s been quite a buzz lately about Google Glass, a “wearable computer” that looks like a pair of eyeglasses but that uses the lenses as transparent screens to display information to the user. (For example, the user might have CNN headlines constantly scrolling on the edge of the screen, or might have the glasses show … Read more