If the current events from the last several months surrounding Eric Garner's choke death, Walter Scott's tasering and fatal shooting, the brutal beating of Fransis Pusok out in the San Diego Desert, and the hog tie, arrest, and death of Freddie Gray can teach us one lesson- it is that the need to record police is a constitutional right that must be preserved. Moreover, it is necessary to further some sort of accountability; the knowledge of the injustices that occurred would not have come to light had a 3rd party not captured it with a camera, but the coming forward is now becoming a brave act that is being discouraged by police arrests, charges, and intimidation. However, with the new age of internet and social media also comes a new form of witness intimidation- retaliation against those who have publically come forward with their cell phone or camera recordings.
What is Witness Intimidation?
Witness intimidation is the act of interfering with or discouraging a witness' testimony or cooperation, and can be either a misdemeanor or felony. Examples include: asking witnesses to lie, not testify, bribing them, threatening them with violence or property damage, threatening loved ones, or preventing them from attending legal proceedings. The crime of witness intimidation is not limited to defendants as being the bad actors. In fact, the Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled that police officers are also not exempt from prosecution under the state's witness intimidation law. Furthermore, the recently updated Seattle Police Code of Conduct also prohibits retaliation against citizens who:
- Exercises a constitutional right
- Records an incident
- Makes a public disclosure request
- Publicly criticizes an SPD employee or the Department
- Initiates litigation
- Opposes any practice that is reasonably believed to be unlawful or in a violation of Department policy
- Files a complaint or provides testimony or information related to a complaint of misconduct
- Provides testimony or information for any other administrative criminal or civil proceeding involving the Department or an officer
- Communicates intent to engage in the above-described activities
- Otherwise engages in lawful behavior
Witness intimidation has always existed, but an argument has to be made that it has never been so brazen so as to charge and arrest someone who has become a public figure on the internet by coming forward with a video recording. In the instance of the Eric Garner case, police subsequently arrested Ramsey Orta, the man who took the video of the choke death, and accused him of slipping a .25 calibur handgun into a teenager's waistband outside a hotel. Orta testified that the charges were made up in retaliation. In this latest instance, Baltimore police also arrested the man who used his cellphone to record Freddie Gray's arrest, Kevin Moore, along with two of his friends. Moore had already been interrogated for several hours about what he saw prior to the arrest. Instead, police arrested Moore and his friends (both who still remain in custody) in the vicinity of a Freddy Gray protest area a few days later while they were walking home. They were never charged, cited, nor given a reason as to why they were arrested. Additionally, the officers involved in Freddie Gray and Walter Scott's deaths were actually charged with criminal murder and manslaughter.
Filming the Cops is Your Constitutional Right
In every state, recording the police in their public duties is a constitutional right. Generally, a citizen has a 4th Amendment right to record police in public and at public protests unless police have probable cause to believe that s/he has committed or is in the process of committing a crime. Further, while most states have their own variations of wiretapping laws or laws prohibiting voice or video recordings of communications without the permission of all the parties to the communication, one may still have a First Amendment right to record the public activities of police, which would trump state law. The First Amendment right to record the police performing their duties in public has been recognized by several courts, including the 1st Circuit, in Glik v. Cunniffe. However, the First Amendment right does not allow one to impede on an officer's activities or break other applicable laws.
Being a Legal Observer is Your Constitutional Right
Legal observers are individuals usually representing civilian or civil rights organizations who attend public demonstrations and protests to observe and record potential conflict between the public and police or improper behavior. They are typically pro bono attorneys or law students who are not participating in the demonstration itself, but still exercising their 1st Amendment rights to record police in public, while they carry out their public duties. Like press, they have the right to be there to record events that transpire as long as they are not impeding an officer's activities. Likewise, another argument can be made that legal observers are tied to the 6th Amendment, since they also usually provide pro bono defense services to those arrested at scenes of civil disobedience.
"Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You."
Whether it be a felony, misdemeanor, juvenile case, DUI, or a traffic infraction case, criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi is committed to obtaining the best result possible for every individual client. As a former prosecutor, Mr. Karimi has extensive knowledge of criminal procedure and the inner workings of the “other side.” He will not be intimidated by the system nor police, and will stand up for your constitutional rights. Whether that's dismissal or reduction of charges, a not-guilty verdict, or an alternative sentence, Mr. Karimi will seek the best options available to your defense. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, arrested, or feel as though you were treated unfairly by police, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation. You can also e-mail us now to set up an appointment.