Woman jailed after recording traffic stop on phone sues
A woman is stopped for a routine traffic offense. She decides to use her cell phone to record the conversation with the police officer and is immediately told she is committing a felony by doing so. She is now suing
Florida is an interesting place where interesting people come up with interesting interpretations of the law.
You don't even have to buy Carl Hiaasen novels at the airport to realize this, though it helps.
The latest interesting legal battle concerns the right to record and/or film proceedings when police decide to stop and talk to you.
This case concerns 33-year-old Brandy Berning. As the Sun-Sentinel reports, she was stopped by a Broward County Sheriff's deputy for allegedly entering an HOV lane at the wrong time.
For reasons that aren't entirely clear, she decided to record her chat with the officer of the law.
In an openness of which Google would be envious, she told the sheriff's deputy, Lt. William O'Brien, that she was recording.
His reply was not exactly public-spirited: "I have to tell you you just committed a felony."
Goodness, officer, do you not follow the Eric Schmidt principle? The one that says if you have nothing to hide then you'll be happy to have your bedside manner heard by all?
As the audio reveals Berning's surprise that she is now a potential felon, the officer is all (no) charm: "Give me your phone," he says.
Berning resists. She explains that she knows her rights. The officer's charm level remains unaltered. He claims the phone is evidence. Well, it's certainly evidence of his curbside manner.
"You're going to end up in jail unless you hand me that phone. Tonight," barks O'Brien.
And so it came to pass. Berning spent the night in jail. She claims that O'Brien grabbed her wrist and sprained it. This all happened last March.
She was never charged. But having thought things through, she's decided to sue.
She told the Sun-Sentinel: "I knew I couldn't give him my phone, because I didn't know why he was acting the way he was if he didn't plan on doing something wrong."
This seems reasonable. Moreover, one of her lawyers believes state law is clear that the police have no expectation of privacy when performing their duties.
For its part, the Broward Sheriff's Office says it doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Recording devices have become very interesting tools for both the police and the public.
While the NYPD, for example, is experimenting with Google Glass, those who are suspicious of police behavior are choosing to use cell phones to record their own side of encounters.
Some police officers react in a harsh or even paranoid manner when confronted with a phone. In a San Diego incident last year, police allegedly became violent at the very sight of a Samsung Galaxy.
Some cell phone recording of the police offer evidence of highly questionable activity. Others descend into the absurd, such as the filming of a Long Island police officer who tried to stop a citizen from washing his own car in his own private driveway.
Florida is a two-way recording state. Both parties must know that a recording is being made. Berning is clearly heard on her recording revealing what she is doing.
But this is Florida. Who knows what the verdict might be?