Last year in a surprising decision from the district court level in New Hampshire, Manchester resident Alfredo Valentin was exonerated from the “wiretapping” charges against him for secretly recording Manchester police when they were searching his home for a tenant’s drugs. The court was clear in its ruling that secretly recording police is protected by the first amendment.
“Essentially, Mr. Valentin was arrested and charged twice because he chose to exercise his constitutionally-protected right to record the police,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director for the ACLU-NH. “We need to encourage more citizens to do what Mr. Valentin did. Here, the officers’ decision to arrest and prosecute him is indicative of a broader, troubling trend in which police continue in a variety of ways to hinder people’s right to record their work in public.”
Here’s an excerpt from the ACLU of NH’s announcement of their joining the case:
In arresting and charging Mr. Valentin on March 2, 2015, the Defendants blatantly violated this clearly-established legal principle. Indeed, the police reports and press release that document Defendants’ decision to arrest Mr. Valentin in this case do not dispute the fact that Mr. Valentin was simply in a public place recording law enforcement officers without interfering with their duties. Manchester ultimately dismissed this wiretapping charge on May 15, 2015. Unfortunately, by that time, Defendants’ unlawful decisions to arrest and charge Mr. Valentin had already inflicted tremendous injury, including the loss of Mr. Valentin’s career.
Shockingly, even in the face of this clearly unconstitutional arrest, the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office then elected to further prosecute Mr. Valentin for a misdemeanor violation of the wiretap statute in an indictment issued on June 18, 2015. The Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office newly contended in the indictment that Mr. Valentin’s recording was done “while trying to hide the telephone from view.” Defendants have reasserted this “secret recording” argument as a defense in this civil rights lawsuit.
However, Mr. Valentin was not secretly recording. But even if he was, the First Amendment right to record law enforcement extends to both open and secret recordings of police officers performing their duties in public. In fact, secret recording is a key component of this First Amendment right. It is the only way that individuals who are too afraid to openly record police officers can exercise their constitutionally-protected rights, and it is a critical tool to gather accurate information about official government activity.
Stay tuned here to Free Keene for the latest on the absurd and oppressive wiretapping laws here in New Hampshire.