Body Cameras and Your Rights

Unless you have been living under a rock, something is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, that will affect your Constitutional rights. There have been riots stemming from the death at the hands of a single police office. Based upon numerous eye-witnesses, Michael Brown turned on an officer and was shot several times in self-defense. This wouldn’t be a huge story except that Michael Brown was a Black man and the police officer is White. So, naturally, all of the race protesters appeared in full force: Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Black Panthers. The city was virtually on fire because of these non-residents wanted to turn Ferguson into a circus. Well, Ferguson is on fire again after another shooting on October 8 when another Black teen was fatally shot by a White officer. Of course, the Black teen was declared innocent by all of the protesters, apparently grabbing a sandwich from his pocket and not a hand gun.

And please, enough with the “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” If you really believe that was what Michael Brown was doing as he approached the officer in August, then you are the problem in Ferguson. Although it is never a good thing when one person takes the life of another, Michael Brown was not the cuddly Teddy bear that he was made out to be. He was a thug and a bully.

Now this is where things get interesting. There is a strong push by law enforcement to institute body cameras on officers when they are on duty. While I believe that it is important for officers to provide documentation during their arrests, citizens also have the right for protection against an unlawful search.

There are so many cell phones video taping the actions of officers these days. There have been numerous videos of officers beating and pounding those who resist arrest. Some officers have kicked while others have beaten with clubs. If an onlooker has a cell phone available, the act is recorded and submitted as “news”. Finally, officers are fighting back with body cameras of their own to document their actions during an arrest. With available technology, I think the police force is wise to do this. It is about time that they digitally document the events as they occur.

However, the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

When an officer approaches a vehicle with a live body camera, the citizen will be immediately subjected to an invasion of the Fourth Amendment. Although the officer may not be intentionally conducting a search, the bodycamera is documenting the entire interior of the vehicle. Perhaps it is documenting a tatoo of the passenger in a vehicle. Perhaps, documentation is made that a child’s seatbelt is not properly fastened. And maybe, a bloody cloth is partially visible under a pile of clothes in the front seat. Each of these situations may be unnoticed during a routine traffic stop for speeding or running a red light. Upon review of the video, the police department will be in a position to dissect everything that is on the tape. If the video has a live feed, the officer may be directed to illegally search the vehicle without probably cause.

The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of RIghts addressed many of these issues over 200 years ago and they still apply today. The rights of citizens must not be trampled upon. While I am supportive of officers providing documentation of their actions, the rights of US citizens are protected against illegal searches without a warrant. Officers must use a different form of documentation during their work that does not infringe upon the Fourth Amendment.

Article by John Coder

Posted October 13, 2014

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