Consider the following hypothetical: police in California raid a home (with a warrant) to search for drugs.

The home in question has a security system in place which includes CCTV cameras. Wanting to avoid being filmed, the police disable the cameras.

Can they legally do this? Does it matter whether they cause permanent damage, such as spraying over lenses or removing components?

Jurisdiction is California.


1 Answer 1


Police have qualified immunity from lawsuit when acting in their official capacity in a discretionary act. But this is not absolute immunity, see Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, which held that there is immunity good faith official actions of police who have not been "put on notice" that a certain action is in fact illegal. As announced in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, "government officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known". There is a fair amount of clear evidence that a person has the right to film police in public, and no question that they have the right to film on their own property so it is unlikely that the court would rule that wanton destruction of cameras to prevent legal filming was a "newly discovered wrong": the police should know that such an act has already been deemed illegal (Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78).

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    Some funny arguments by police in Glik v. Cunniffe: If you tell the police "I'm recording you" they can't arrest you. So the police claimed that when Glik pointed his phone at them openly, they couldn't know he was actually recording, so it was a secret recording, so they could arrest him. But then if he wasn't recording they shouldn't have arrested him? So if I witness police violence, my phone's battery is empty, and I pretend to record them to make them stop using illegal violence, they basically say they can arrest me for recording, because I didn't. What nonsense.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 14, 2020 at 11:14

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