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-   -   Filming of illegal activities (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/taking-care-business/58191-filming-illegal-activities.html)

Eric James January 13th, 2006 04:22 AM

Filming of illegal activities
Hey Everyone,
I searched for quite a while but I've been having trouble finding any answers.

I'm doing a documentary in which the subjects will be breaking the law in certain areas. They aren't doing anything big, were talking very small misdemeanors.

We will be traveling part of the time and the production will be paying for the subjects to get where we are going, therefore "helping" them do something illegal.

The fine line comes in that we found this little world and would like to tell the story. The illegal activities would be happening anyways, whether or not we were filming.

We also do not want to put the subjects at more legal risk for our gain.

My questions are:
Can our footage be taken?
Can we get in trouble for aiding and abetting?
Can the authorities use the footage against the subjects?
How can news stations film illegal activities (riots etc..) without putting there cameramen at risk. If the footage is evidence of crimes, you'd be making a target out of the camera man. This of war zones or the LA riots.

Any info at all would be great.

Eric James


Rob Lohman January 13th, 2006 04:35 AM

I am no lawyer and I suggest you contact one with such questions. That
being said, it sounds like a really bad idea. A news crew has certain privileges
and they sure don't pay or tell people to do illegal activities. You would do
that. So I would expect you to be fully accountable and that the footage
can be seized and used as evidence in such a matter.

However, all of this is just speculation, of course.

p.s. news people are always at risk. I've seen various (physical) things happen
to them in the pursuit of news. Including death. Risks are everywhere

Peter Wiley January 13th, 2006 06:03 AM

I think you absolutley could be charged with conspiracy and/or aiding and abetting.

Because you have a profit motive (whatever you intend to get from the documentary) in facilitating the comission of the crimes it could be worse than misdemeanor for you depending on the laws of your state. The video could be used as evidence.

I think most lawyers are going to to say "are you nuts?"

Pete Bauer January 13th, 2006 07:33 AM

Yeah, a good citizen who becomes aware of premeditated criminal activity would report it to law enforcement, not aid and abet. Guaranteed, if I was on the jury, I'd vote to convict you of conspiracy.

I say turn the creeps in and find a more postive outlet for your talents.

Mike Teutsch January 13th, 2006 08:45 AM


Originally Posted by Eric James
I'm doing a documentary in which the subjects will be breaking the law in certain areas. They aren't doing anything big, were talking very small misdemeanors.

It has been many years since I was a cop in California, but I still remember one thing. Conspiracy to commit a “Misdemeanor” is a “FELONY!” Don’t do it.


David Nelson January 13th, 2006 09:02 AM

I think it is smart for everyone who posts in this thread to copy and paste the following before offering any advice:
I, "place your name here" am not a lawyer, nor am I offering any legal advice. Any information offered in this thread is simply public opinion shared in these forums.

I, David Nelson, am not a lawyer, nor am I offering any legal advice. Any information offered in this thread is simply public opinion shared in these forums.

Ok, sounds like you are doing this:
Conspiracy: As a legal term, a conspiracy is an agreement of two or more people to commit a crime: see conspiracy (crime), or to accomplish a legal end through illegal actions

One important use of conspiracy charges is that it relieves prosecutors of the need to prove the particular roles of conspirators.

In fact this thread you have started can and will be held against you in the court of law. If your luck would have it, something accidental could happen and it involves the law, this unfortunate thread could make it into the courtroom with you, even though unrelated, in the eyes of a jury they may question what exactly it was that you were plotting.

I'd be very careful what you post. In fact this thread might even be pulled.

Rule of thumb: Dont be dumb, normally actions which can be described with "break the law" in the definition shouldn't happen. Filming and distributing acts of breaking the law purposely, is simply a foolish act, asking for conviction. JUST DON'T DO IT!

Robert Kirkpatrick January 13th, 2006 09:33 AM

Don't do it. Seriously. If you're having doubts -- and your posts seems to come across that way -- then don't do it. Documentaries are not the same thing as news reports. For instance, documentaries require permissions, model releases, etc., which news reports usually don't need. Even the staged prank shows (ala Jackass, Viva La Bam, Punked) require extensive releases, permits, and insurances.

Take a look at the Bumfight people, even if it's an extreme example: http://www.ccchronicle.com/back/2002...-07/arts3.html

I remember there was some trouble for some documentary filmmakers who tried to do a graffiti artist movie -- but I can no longer find the article. If I remember correctly, if they bought paint or went along during the actual graffit bit or even knew about it before it happened, then they were in a world of hurt. And not only could their footage be confiscated for evidence, but all their gear, including cameras and editing.

Chris Barcellos January 13th, 2006 12:16 PM

I am a lawyer
I am a lawyer, and my advice is simple. Don't do it. Even this thread could be deemed evidence of conspiracy to commit a crime.

Chris Barcellos

David Nelson January 13th, 2006 12:22 PM

Chris, good advice.

Eric James January 13th, 2006 02:45 PM

Hey Guys,
Thanks for all the advice. I will be talking more with a lawyer but my plan for right now is to "dramatize" the activities in a legal way. So the activilties will still be shown as it is very important to the story, but they will be filmed in such a way that is legal.

Eric James

Ben Winter January 13th, 2006 02:53 PM

Drop the framerate to like 5 fps, make it black and white and tilt the camera left and right really fast. That's the classic late-night sci-fi "aliens abducted me" documentary movie reenactment technique.

Eric James January 13th, 2006 03:31 PM

Hey guys,

Alright so I wasn't going to post what it was I am filming but I figure if this thread is already evidence then it doesn't matter.

So what's so horrible that I might be put in jail for conspiracy?


Now I'm really glad that I didn't say what I would be filming at first so that I could see all the current responses.

Does this change anything?

I have seen a couple HUNDRED skate videos in which the skaters are being filmed skating on private property. I have never once heard of anyone being charged with anything. The most I have heard of is a $150 trespassing ticket.

What are your opinions on this topic now?

Eric James

Robert Kirkpatrick January 13th, 2006 04:17 PM


Originally Posted by Eric James
Does this change anything?

No, not really. You asked the board for advice, and the board answered with the worst case scenario. No advice given here seems bad even in light of your skateboarding revelation. It depends on your town, your municipality, and how much they want to enforce it. In some less urban places in Arkansas, there's a massive crackdown on skaters, and the cops are itching to do something. In others, it warrants at most a shrug.

I know plenty of video people who used copyrighted music in their work and who sell it but who never get caught -- and a lot of the homemade extreme sports videos I've seen are notorious for this -- that doesn't mean that it won't happen (or that it will). The producers are just taking a risk.

I asked a cop friend what he thought, and his response was, it depends. You may get a warning, or you may not -- depending on the pressure of the town, the property owner, and the level of enforcement.

So I guess it comes down, do you want to take that risk or not. Yeah, they may do nothing, but then again, they might not. It could be a fine, or it could be worse. Legally, they are within the law to make your life a living hell, but sometimes, they have bigger fish to fry.

If you weren't worried about it, or it seems so absurd that skateboarding could be so harshly punished, then why even ask?

Eric James January 13th, 2006 04:25 PM


Originally Posted by Robert Kirkpatrick
If you weren't worried about it, or it seems so absurd that skateboarding could be so harshly punished, then why even ask?

Well really both sides are needed for me to make my decision. I wanted to see what the worst case could be, or what the best case could be.

I really didn't know that it could be a felony to help someone trespass, and I take all of the advice above very seriously. Mostly I was trying to play a bit of devil's advocate to get arguments from both sides.

Eric James

Marco Leavitt January 13th, 2006 04:43 PM

I hope you don't give up on this project without at least talking to a lawyer, and you definitely don't want to do it without talking to one. You haven't given us many details on the subject matter, but if it's an important story to tell it might be worth pushing the envelope a little bit. A lawyer may be able to tell you how to go about this and still protect yourself (both your liberty and your integrity). You need to make an informed decision and weigh the risk carefully though.

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