A former television photojournalist who snapped a photo of a crime scene in Illinois, then sent it to her former news station, ended up having her phone confiscated.
Obviously, Beth Vollmer still didn’t know her rights despite her journalistic background.
She even offered to delete the photo to appease the officer but the officer told her he needed it as “evidence.”
The incident took place this week in Belleville, which is about 300 miles southwest of Chicago.
Belleville police returned the phone to her the following day and it doesn’t appear as if she’s going to do anything about it.
KSDK, her former news station, turned to the ACLU to clarify the law:
“In this instance you have police performing a public duty, and someone is able to record that visually through a photograph without any fear of prosecution,” says ACLU of Illinois’ Ed Yohnka.
He says Vollmer did nothing wrong and she had a constitutional right to take this picture. He says even if police believe there’s evidence of a crime they still need a warrant or your consent to seize it.
Yohnka also says Vollmer wasn’t breaking any other state laws.
“You can take a picture in public of anyone in Illinois and it is not a violation of any eavesdropping law, it’s not an infringement of their privacy,” says Yohnka.
As usual, the National Press Photographers Association fired off a letter to the Belleville Police Department, reminding them of the law and offering to work with them in drafting a set of guidelines.
And once again, I will post the excerpt regarding the confiscation of cameras as evidence from the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidelines to police officers in dealing with citizens who record them in public.
Policies on individuals’ right to record and observe police should provide officers with clear guidance on the limited circumstances under which it may be permissible to seize recordings and recording devices. An officer’s response to an individual’s recording often implicates both the First and Fourth Amendment, so it’s particularly important that a general order is consistent with basic search and seizure principles. A general order should provide officers with guidance on how to lawfully seek an individual’s consent to review photographs or recordings and the types of circumstances that do—and do not—provide exigent circumstances to seize recording devices, the permissible length of such a seizure, and the prohibition against warrantless searches once a device has been seized. Moreover, this guidance must reflect the special protection afforded to First Amendment materials.
Policies should include language to ensure that consent is not coerced, implicitly or explicitly. See Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 228 (1973) (“[T]he Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments require that a consent not be coerced, by explicit or implicit means, by implied threat or covert force. For, no matter how subtly the coercion was applied, the resulting ‘consent’ would be no more than a pretext for the unjustified police intrusion against which the Fourth Amendment is directed.”). In assessing whether an individual’s consent to search was freely and voluntarily given, Courts may consider “the characteristics of the accused . . . as well as the conditions under which the consent to search was given (such as the officer’s conduct; the number of officers present; and the duration, location, and time of the encounter).” United States v. Lattimore, 87 F.3d 647, 650 (4th Cir. 1996). BPD’s explanation of the process for obtaining consent includes clear guidelines regarding what steps an officer should take once an individual provides an officer with consent to review a recording. However, BPD’s general order should include language to ensure that consent is not coerced, implicitly or explicitly.
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CARLOS MILLER’S LEGAL DEFENSE FUND
I am immersed in a legal case where I not only want to clear my criminal charges stemming from my arrest in January, but I want to sue the Miami-Dade Police Department for deleting my footage, which I was able to recover.
My goal is to set some type of precedent to ensure this does not happen as often as it does today where cops simply get away with it.
So if you would like to contribute, please click on the “donate” button below and contribute whatever you can afford.
Also, in an unrelated PINAC matter, I recently went through a hair transplant operation and I’m documenting my recovery on this blog if you are interested. I did not pay for this transplant, which is why I’m promoting the doctor through the hair transplant blog.