Appeals Court Rules Live Streaming Police During Traffic Stops Protected by First Amendment

On February 7, 2023, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in favor of American Democracy by calling the North Carolina town’s policy of banning live streaming of police during stops unconstitutional. Let’s explore the details of the news with Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys.

Background of the Case

Dijon Sharpe live-streamed a police officer during a police traffic stop when one of the officers, Myers Helms, tried to snatch Sharpe’s phone away, claiming that live streaming was threatening his safety. 

After the altercation, Sharpe sued the town of Winterville, North Carolina, for adopting a policy that violated the United States First Amendment.

Sharpe also pursued another lawsuit against Helms, the officer who tried to snatch his mobile phone away during the police traffic stop.

Lawsuits Filed Against Winterville Police Officers and the City Dismissed by District Court

The two lawsuits filed in the District Court did not turn out in Sharpe’s favor. According to the District Court’s ruling, the state’s policy did not violate the First Amendment, and Sharpe could not pursue a lawsuit against Helms due to qualified immunity.

Dijon Sharpe Pursues Lawsuit in 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

The District Court’s ruling did not stop Sharpe from pursuing the lawsuit in the Federal Appeals Court.

Recording Police Encounters Creates Information and Its Own Record Similar to Live Streaming a Police Officer, Court States

The Federal Appeals Court ruled in favor of Sharpe and stated that banning the live-streaming of police officers during a police traffic stop violated the citizen’s First Amendment. 

The Judge compared live-streaming police officers to recording police encounters, stating that both are the same and recording police encounters creates information and its own record that plays a role in the discussion about governmental affairs.

Federal Appeals Court Rules That Speech Protected under First Amendment Includes Live Streaming Police During Traffic Stops

The Federal Appeals Court gave the verdict that the United States First Amendment protects live-streaming traffic stops. The ruling further allowed Sharpe’s claim to proceed in court, stating that the plaintiff now has to prove that such a policy that bans live streaming traffic stops in Winterville exists while the police will have to prove that it does not violate the First Amendment. The police may be able to explain that such policies cater to serious government interests and avoid liability.

However, the Federal Appeals Court agreed to the ruling of Sharpe’s claim against police officer Myers Helms, stating under qualified immunity, Sharpe’s claim against Helm could not proceed as he did not establish how officer Helm violated Sharpe’s First Amendment.

What Is Qualified Immunity?

Although the speech protected by First Amendment applies to live-streaming a police traffic stop, Sharpe could not pursue his lawsuit against police officer Myer Helms due to qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that provides public officials performing discretionary functions with complete immunity from civil suits unless the victim can prove that the official violated their constitutional rights. 

Supreme Court Must Take Action and Provide Nationwide Guidance

Over the years, the Supreme Court has avoided the issue of privacy and, in most cases, sided with the law enforcement authorities (inapplicable wiretap and two-party consent laws), which continues to give the government more of a right to record public activities than the actual public. Until then, we must continue to satisfy ourselves with the precedent set by the Federal Appeals Court.

Whether Djion wins or loses this lawsuit, his decision to pursue the lawsuit in the Federal Appeals Court and the court’s ruling will improve things for millions of citizens. The precedent that firmly establishes the right to record public officials is a spat on the face of some law enforcement officers who thrive on violating the rights (especially the First Amendment) of citizens for their own pleasure.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

If you’ve suffered injuries or harm due to a police officer’s actions, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be able to seek compensation.


Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.

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