Increasing numbers of motorists in Maryland and other parts of the United States are using dashcams, also known as dashboard cameras in their cars. Cameras can show liability in auto crashes. Many drivers also use them for entertainment to film events like bad weather and to post time-lapse videos of storms and traffic conditions on social media. After an arrest, the evidence on dashcams may be useful to police. The question ‘can the police seize your dashcam in Maryland?’ Suddenly becomes very relevant.
As with many questions about police searches and seizures, there are no easy answers. When the intent of police to gather evidence comes into conflict with the privacy rights of citizens, you should seek legal advice from an attorney. Baltimore criminal defense lawyer Randolph Rice discusses whether the police can seize your dashcam in Maryland. If you find yourself in this situation, always seek legal advice and a face-to-face meeting with a lawyer.
What Is a Dashcam?
A dashcam or dashboard camera is a small video camera that motorists mount on a car’s dashboard or windshield to record what’s going on in front of a car. It’s also possible to mount rear-facing dashcams that record footage behind a vehicle.
In 2018, USA Today reported increasing numbers of drivers were buying dashboard cameras. New wholesale shipments that year were expected to reach 285,000, up 20% on the previous year.
Car cameras vary wildly in sophistication and price. The more advanced models are capable of capturing multiple views around a vehicle. Some can record sounds inside a car and have a motion sensor that turns the camera on when the car is involved in a car accident in Baltimore. They may even switch on if another driver hits your parked car when it’s unoccupied.
A dashcam can document the important moments leading up to a traffic accident, second by second, time-stamped with important information such as the vehicle speed.
This information can be invaluable if another driver hits and injures you. Conversely, the footage can be useful evidence for the other driver if you caused the accident and to the police in a criminal investigation such as road rage, drunk driving or reckless driving. The video information can help the police immensely. However, the fact it may be important to the investigation does not mean the police automatically have a right to seize your dashcam in Maryland.
When Can the Police Seize Your Dashcam in Maryland?
The police can seize your dashcam in Maryland if they have a search warrant. To obtain a search warrant the officers must show probable cause that the dashboard camera footage will show evidence that you committed a crime. For instance, if you hit and killed a pedestrian on a crosswalk, investigators may argue the footage will show clear evidence you committed a crime. It could be slightly less obvious. If, for instance, the police believed your car was used for drug crimes, they may be interested in audio conversations caught on the cam or details of places you visited. Police can seize your dashcam even if when you are not the prime suspect. If they go through the right channels they may seek footage from the cameras of other parties that likely recorded a crime.
Probable cause is defined as when police can show there is a fair probability that evidence of a crime or contraband will be discovered in a search. Get your Maryland defense attorney to challenge a warrant if you think police lack probable cause. Police usually need a warrant issued by a judge to seize your dashcam.
In certain instances, the warrant requirement can be overridden. The most obvious one is when police ask if they can take your dashboard cam and you agree to the request. Even if you believe you have nothing to hide, never give up your rights.
The police can search your dashcam if they have probable cause to believe you will destroy incriminating evidence if they don’t take it. They can carry out an immediate search without a warrant in these circumstances, although you have a right to challenge it.
Can You Legally Film the Police on Your Dashcam in Maryland?
A spate of deadly traffic stops put law enforcement under unprecedented public scrutiny in recent years. Incidents included the killing of Philando Castile, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota in 2016, and Sandra Bland, an African American woman who took her life in a Texas police cell after a traffic stop for a minor infraction turned into an altercation with a state trooper. Castile’s girlfriend filmed the deadly encounter with her phone on Facebook Live, saying she feared for her safety. Years after Bland’s death, video footage she filmed of the encounter came to light.
You have a right to record on-duty police officers in Maryland. This means you can record an officer during a traffic stop on your dashcam or another device. You can also record the officer during an interrogation, or as he or she makes an arrest.
A police officer who tells you to stop filming and tries to seize the camera is acting unlawfully. You should be aware the police officer can legitimately argue a dashcam is a hazard and cite you. Make sure the camera is unobtrusive and does not impair your vision. Although most windshield-mounted dash cams are small and are not a hazard, consider where else you can mount one in your car.
The ACLU Maryland points out police should not order you to stop taking pictures or video. Under no circumstances should an officer demand that you delete your photographs or other footage.
The ACLU states police officers may order citizens to stop doing things that are interfering with legitimate law enforcement operations. This could include being in the way of officers at a crime scene or an accident with a camera. If an officer says he or she will arrest you if you stop doing something, it’s better to put the camera away and comply. However, the officer should not demand the cameras, the footage, or ask you to delete footage.
Drivers do not have the right to take dashcam footage of passengers unbeknown to them or without their permission in Maryland.
Can You Delete Dashcam Evidence After an Accident or a Crime in Maryland?
In Maryland, it’s an offense to delete evidence that may shed light on an accident or a crime from your dashcam. Never tamper with any evidence or attempt to conceal something that can have a bearing on your case.
Will You Get Your Dashcam Back After Police Seize It in Maryland?
If police seize your dash cam for evidence of a crime, you are unlikely to get it back until a prosecutor authorizes them to do so. This may not be until you have entered a plea or your trial has taken place. Oftentimes, police will permanently seize items under the process of civil asset forfeiture and profit from the sale of the item. While defendants should not expect to get back items like drugs or illegal weapons, you can dispute the seizure of money, cars, phones, cameras or other belongings.
Ask an Attorney if the Police Can Seize Your Dashcam in Maryland
An attorney is the best person to answer technical questions such as whether the police can seize your dashcam in Maryland. Arrests are always stressful and defendants are not always aware of their rights.
Attorney Randolph Rice is a former prosecutor who has handled the fine details of criminal processes in Maryland for well over a decade. He handled hundreds of cases as a former assistant state attorney in Baltimore. He started working in private practice in 2009 when he set up his own firm. At the Law Offices of Randolph Rice, we will inform you of your legal rights and fight illegal searches and seizures on your behalf. Please call us for a free consultation at (410) 431-0911.