No First Amendment Right to Filming Police, Court Finds

, The Legal Intelligencer


Citizens do not have a First Amendment right to film police officers absent a challenge to their conduct, a federal judge has ruled in a case of first impression in the Third Circuit.

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What's being said

  • scottie addison

    I am an experienced legal observer on public assemblies, watchful of applicable protections which are way too vague and variant. The 3rd Circuit creates an untenable double-bind, requiring police knowledge of one‘s expressive intent, when in fact this is outside their discretion and none of their business. Plaintiffs Fields & Geraci got caught in this mobius logic trap, partly because rights lawyers keep leaning loosely on the 1st Amendment without defining the distinct conduct of watching and recording the police on its own terms. As an example -- during the Miami ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas‘ (FTAA) Protests in Nov.‘03, Guild observers were swept off the streets by the cops early on. These cases were mixed in with all sorts of civil rights violations related to the protests, and the special nature and protections of the observer role never came to constitutional focus. I have urged then & now a different approach -- affirming the fundamental ‘Civic Right‘ to observe public servants in public actions, and to record such events at will, as a predicate to one‘s chosen expression, and really a necessary pre-condition for all political speech. Being and Seeing in public IS the "protected conduct". I believe a new post-Ferguson law in California goes this way, establishing an explicit right of citizens to record police -- much better than body-cameras cops can turn off, screw up, or withhold from evidence or disclosure. This opens up the argument that police foreknowledge of one‘s expression is a ‘prior restraint‘, and creates a nexus to 2 other 1st Amdt ‘prongs‘ -- right to petition, freedom of the press. In fact journalists & observers must stand in the same protections on the ground, but this analysis has not been adequately developed. There are also important 5th & 9th Amdt elements to such claims, worthy of exploring further. I would like to hear more on all this from concerned and interested wizards in the field.

  • PFM

    Just like there are good police and not-so-good police there exists good judges and then not-so-good judges. In public, if the people doing the filming are not doing anything illegal then the police have zero legal basis to engage these people. This ruling serves no purpose except to better how the judge is viewed by the local police community. If people can legally film anything in the public‘s eye and police can film the public, coupled with the language contained in the 1st & 4th Amendments this is a very biased decision and does not a good decision or judge make (purposefully written).

  • Christopher Hoffman

    This judge is wrong. There is vast and citable precedent to eviscerate this ruling in short order.

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