Recording Public Meetings and Court Hearings

Public Meetings

Generally speaking, when you attend a public meeting of a government body that is required to be open to the public by law, you are free to record that meeting through note-taking, sound and video recording devices, and photography, so long as the method of recording used is reasonable and not disruptive. Your ability to do so, however, is based largely on state open meetings laws, and the details of these laws vary significantly. At least one court has held that there is no federal constitutional right to make a video recording of an open meeting, at least not when other methods are available for compiling a record of the proceeding, such as written and stenographic notes or audiotaping. Whiteland Woods, LLP v. Township of W. Whiteland, 193 F.3d 177 (3rd Cir. 1999). Government bodies may therefore place reasonable restrictions on the use recording devices, including a ban on certain devices, in order to preserve the orderly conduct of its meetings.

For information on your right of access to the meetings of government bodies, please consult the Access to Government Information section of the guide and the Open Government Guide prepared by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Even when no state open meetings law affirmatively gives you the right to record, many state statutes permit the recording of speeches and conversations that take place where the parties may reasonably expect to be recorded. If you are attending a meeting that is open to the public, it is likely that the people running a meeting or giving a speech should reasonably assume that they might be recorded. However, you should always take reasonable steps to make clear that you are recording. Concealing your camera or recording equipment is not a good idea.

For state-specific information about using recording equipment in public meetings, see the State Law: Recording section.

Court Hearings

The law regarding the use of audio and video recording devices in court hearings varies a great deal based on the state. In Chandler v. Florida, 449 U.S. 560 (1981), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the federal Constitution does not prohibit states from allowing cameras in the courtroom and that states may adopt their own rules permitting such recording equipment. Note that this ruling does not require states to allow recording in the courtroom, it only says that states may choose to do so. Since this ruling, all fifty states have adopted rules on the topic, but the rules vary widely. In some states, cameras and recording equipment are permitted in trial and appellate court proceedings, while in others recording is only allowed in appellate court proceedings. Most states give the court discretion to impose reasonable restrictions on the use of cameras and recording equipment in order to maintain the integrity of its proceedings and to otherwise serve the interests of justice.

For state-specific information about recording in courtrooms, see the State Law: Recording section.

The federal appellate courts may adopt their own rules regarding cameras and recording equipment in the courtroom. At the time of writing, only the Second Circuit and the Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals allow recording equipment.

For information on your right of access to court proceedings, please consult the Access to Government Information section of the guide.

 

Last updated on March 13th, 2008

   
 
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