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Federal Appeals Court: You Have a Constitutional Right to Film Police Officers in Public (slate.com) 304

On Friday, a panel of judges for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the First Amendment protects individuals' right to film police officers performing their official duties. From a report: The 3rd Circuit now joins the 1st, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th Circuits in concluding that the Constitution guarantees a right to record. No federal appeals court has yet concluded that the First Amendment does not safeguard the right to film law enforcement officers conducting police activity in public. Friday's decision involved two instances in which the Philadelphia police retaliated against citizens attempting to film them. In the first incident, a legal observer named Amanda Geraci tried to film police arresting an anti-fracking protester when an officer pinned her against a pillar, preventing her from recording the arrest. In the second, a Temple University sophomore named Richard Fields tried to film police officers breaking up a house party when an officer asked him whether he "like[d] taking pictures of grown men" and demanded that he leave. When Fields refused, the officer arrested and detained him, confiscating his phone and looking through its photos and videos. The officer cited Fields for "Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages," although the charges were dropped when the officer failed to appear at a court hearing. Geraci and Fields filed civil rights suits against the officers who interfered with their filming attempts.
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Federal Appeals Court: You Have a Constitutional Right to Film Police Officers in Public

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:54AM (#54768157)

    They can still be filmed shooting and killing people without any reason and get away with it.
    Well, black people anyway.

    • Selective editing of one sided videos is a real threat to cops and anyone not protected by their own videos. The ghetto lottery has become a regular cottage industry about this kind of abuse. I have no problem with holding cops responsible for mistakes and wrong doing, but many edited video payoff demands have been clearly shown to withhold crucial information too.

      I'm sure there is an invasion of privacy reflex, that of course, is misplaced.

      I found it very interesting in the primaries someone tried
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Selective editing of one sided videos is a real threat to cops and anyone not protected by their own videos.

        Not really a problem. The only thing that prevents cops from having their own videos is themselves.
        If video evidence from other sources starts to show up then the cops misplaced recordings will start to show up and the recorders will have way less malfunction issues.

        The first step about justice should be about finding out the truth, not getting people you consider to be bad locked up.
        Having video evidence from several sources is a good step in that direction and should be beneficial both for law abiding cit

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Selective editing of one sided videos is a real threat to cops and anyone not protected by their own videos. The ghetto lottery has become a regular cottage industry about this kind of abuse. I have no problem with holding cops responsible for mistakes and wrong doing, but many edited video payoff demands have been clearly shown to withhold crucial information too.

        Well at least with regards to cops I feel they have perfectly legitimate reasons to record everything they do, even though access should obviously be restricted to protect confidential information, witnesses, privacy when they search private property and so on. So if only their body cams would stop "malfunctioning" when there's an incident they could show their side of the story. In any other circumstances yes it's always a concern who was filming the situation and why, do they have a form of agenda. But th

      • I have no problem with holding cops responsible for mistakes and wrong doing, but many edited video payoff demands have been clearly shown to withhold crucial information too.

        This is a stupid objection, because we can detect when video has been edited and throw out the evidence in that case, or even pursue charges against the editor for falsifying evidence. It's worth worrying about, but still not a valid or logical argument against video evidence.

      • Selective editing of ANY video is a problem in this context, including mandated footage that is mysteriously "lost" when needed as evidence. That's why both sides need to be aware that the other can be recording. It keeps everyone honest.

  • Odd... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:20AM (#54768187) Journal

    The 3rd Circuit now joins the 1st, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th

    Something different about the even-numbered ones?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:26AM (#54768189)

    ends on an officer's fist. Please remember: officers enjoy qualified immunity even when they are completely wrong about the law as long as they can make believe that they are clueless, and they are preselected for stupidity: a high IQ score disqualifies applicants from service.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @05:15AM (#54768311)

      What's that phrase I always hear them say?

      Ignorance of the law is not a valid legal defense?

      Interesting how it only goes one way.

      • Problem is there's no law saying "Police must allow the public to photograph/video them, under penalty of..." If a police officer wrongfully arrests you for recording, he can later simply say "oops, I didn't know," drop the charges, and not face any penalties. Very different from when you're caught speeding and you say "but I didn't see that speed limit sign." The law says you're subject to a fine for violating it, so you still have to pay the fine even if you didn't know.

        It's like what Rambus did whe
        • As you state fairly well here, the key is to call your congress/senators and request that the write a federal law that protects your right to record audio, video or both on anyone at any time in any venue where there is no expectation of privacy (everywhere except public restrooms/changing rooms/inside a person's house/car/RV/tent/etc. and maybe on their property if you are not physically present; no telephoto/drone recording etc.) As part of the law, make it a $500 fine and 5 days in jail to prevent someo

        • (the USPTO was operating under first to file back then, not first to invent).

          Say what? The USPTO has issued patents under the principle of first to invent since its founding, being almost the only national patent office to do so. It became first to file in 2013, well after the RAMBUS case (and still is so today).

      • Actually, violating constitutional rights opens officers and their departments up to big lawsuits. Since the people in question were not seriously injured, etc they would not be prosecuted for a criminal act.

    • In those federal circuits a claim of qualified immunity ain't gonna work anymore.

      • Yes, it will because they simply collude with the prosecutor's office to ignore it. Civil cases are fine this needs criminal charges that MUST be filed otherwise it just gets swept under the rug.

      • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

        But unfortunately it did work.

        The ruling affirmed the people's right to record, but it also used "qualified immunity" to say that the police officers in question could not be held liable for what they did to the people doing the recording. The court claimed that the right to record had not been "clearly established" when the incidents took place. Nothing happens to the cops and the victims can't sue for damages.
        Look on the bright side though. Overturning that idiotic lower court ruling was a big win. Co

    • The recently retired police chief in my small town had 5 college degrees. How many do you have, stupid?
  • Just remember (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @04:01AM (#54768205)

    that the police officer has the right to use deadly violence to defend himself, if he feels that his life is threatened by a camera. And the law is always on its own side, never yours.

    • So what if I feel threatened by their body camera? Of never mind, it's probably turned off. Sorry, I mean cutbacks have caused reduced maintenance schedules for the cameras causing them to fail at inopportune moments.

    • by ghoul ( 157158 )

      Yeah well right to self defense is absolute. In theory it includes killing cops to save your own life if you feel the cop is about to kill you. If this cop misbehaviour keeps getting worse we may eventually have a case where a suspect kills an arresting officer and claims self defense on the stand. And a pissed off jury may believe it. Than the cops will reap a whirlwind of shit.
      Hence it is in good cops' interests to weed out the bad cops amonst their midst specifically the cowards who are jumping at shadow

  • by sheramil ( 921315 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @04:27AM (#54768255)
    Good lord, how many circuits are there? And when are they going to be combined into one integrated circuit that doesn't generate as much heat?
  • ... you can't film in court w/o the judge's permission.

    • Cases of judges abusing their power to beat up or shoot a defendant in the court room are... nonexistent I believe.

      • Well, not entirely true, there's a case of a Judge torturing a defendant with electric shocks a decade or two ago. The defendant was fitted with a device to administer them if he got violent, but she was using it because he was speaking out of turn.

        But... yeah, leaving aside the fact judges aren't trained to be violent in certain circumstances, the major difference is that courts are generally open and there are witnesses to the proceedings who are mandated to be there, including lawyers who - whatever t

      • ... you can't film in court w/o the judge's permission.

        Cases of judges abusing their power to beat up or shoot a defendant in the court room are... nonexistent I believe.

        True, and I understand the various reasons taking video/photos in court may be generally prohibited - mainly to avoid disruptions - but I was more remarking on how people are inclined to apply/enforce standards to/on others but not to/on themselves.

        For example, Congress was/is all too happy to support the 22nd Amendment setting a term limit for the President, but whenever asked about setting term limits for members of the House and Senate they're all about defending the people's right to choose their ele

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @05:43AM (#54768367) Homepage Journal

    If you're not doing anything wrong you've got nothing to hide, right? This applies to them too.

    • That's what the NSA says, when they demand authority to anal-search your data. So, no, it's not about a criterion of "nothing to hide". Rather, it's about the expectation and right of privacy. Public servants (the police) doing their public duty are a public matter, and therefore have no right of privacy, and are subject to public scrutiny.
  • ... why are the so against being filmed by others?
  • Though I agree with the court, that recording anything one can legally observe should itself be legal, I do not understand, what the First Amendment has to do with this right. What is the connection between such recording — which can (and often is) done silently — and Free Speech?

    If it is the plans to later publish the recordings, that place their preparation legal, then a lot of other activity may fall under the Amendment's protection — such as leaking state secrets [theatlantic.com] or "entering federal [wikipedia.org]

    • What is the connection between such recording â" which can (and often is) done silently â" and Free Speech?

      If you have a right to free speech, then you obviously have a right to free observing, free listening, and free remembering - video just helps you do those two things as an assistive technology.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        If you have a right to free speech, then you obviously have a right to free observing, free listening, and free remembering

        What?! Seems like a non-sequitur to me... One does not follow from the other at all...

        video just helps you do those two things as an assistive technology

        See my earlier response [slashdot.org] to the Anonymous for more.

    • Here [washingtonpost.com] is an excerpt from the opinion and a bit of legal analysis. What it basically boils down to is that the purpose of the first amendment is to promote public discourse and make possible the ability to observe and criticize the government. The trial court had said that it wasn't clear that her purpose was expressive at the time of recording but that's stupid because how to do you go back in time and record something once you realize should have been recording. People need to be able to record police at al
    • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

      I don't understand why they had to make a First Amendment argument in the first place. If the government cannot point to a specific law which prohibits recording, the police have no authority to interfere. When We, The People are in a public place and government is spying on us, they assert that we have no "reasonable expectation of privacy". How can government employees claim that they are entitled to special rights when they're in public? I think the ruling should have affirmed the right to record on

      • I don't understand why they had to make a First Amendment argument in the first place. If the government cannot point to a specific law which prohibits recording, the police have no authority to interfere. When We, The People are in a public place and government is spying on us, they assert that we have no "reasonable expectation of privacy". How can government employees claim that they are entitled to special rights when they're in public? I think the ruling should have affirmed the right to record on that basis. No law is being broken and police cannot interfere in lawful activity.

        I'm not sure why we needed the First Amendment here, but I trust that the ACLU & their lawyers know what they're doing & I'm very pleased with the end result. For once, a ruling goes our way.

        Many states (I do not know about Pennsylvania) did enact laws that made it illegal to record police officers. So it is possible that, in the case that such a law did exist and then it would be required for the plaintiff to prove that the law recorded either violates the state or federal constitution.

      • by mi ( 197448 )

        the police have no authority to interfere

        Because the law can not predict every situation, police officers have the authority to order people around as they see fit (this ability is what attracts an unhealthy number of people to become pigs in the first place). When so ordered, you must obey — or you can be charged with a crime for disobeying. Your only defense then will be the illegality of the order...

        So I am not surprised, people attempt to establish that any orders to "stop recording" are illegal

        • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

          I get the gist of what you're saying, but cops can't just wander around ordering people to do things, arresting them if they refuse & getting them prosecuted for the crime of disobeying orders. All of the statutes about disobeying an officer cover only "lawful" orders. If they arrested you and roughed you up for disobeying what was clearly an unlawful order, you would have a legal case against them.

          I'm agreeing that the First Amendment argument seems a little awkward. I'm saying that if recording the

  • Seriously, we should have the right to record all courts, in particular, the media should. If the judge is worried about harassment, then simply set aside several cameras in the room, and make the take available to the media and public.
    • The problem with cameras in court are specifically because for a jury trial, the jurors and witnesses can't feel intimidated. While a crime of passion murder trial is probably not concerned with intimidation, you can bet your ass that a gang related murder is going to be. Your right to video ends where the public's right to a fair trial begins.

      • And that is fine. Do not show the jury on the camera. That is why I suggested that the camera should be court controlled. It can even allow for such things as masking voices, or even masking the witnesses, PRIOR to outing the video.
        BUT, it is only right that we get to see these.

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