First Amendment Complications of AZ HB2319: Restricting Filming of Police

Even though case law is well settled, the debate over the filming of police as a First Amendment right continues.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals recently reinstated a lawsuit, ruling that civilian videos of police are protected by the constitution:

“[The plaintiff’s] right to film the police falls squarely within the First Amendment’s core purposes to protect free and robust discussion of public affairs, hold government officials accountable, and check abuse of power.”

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the governor just signed a law that prohibits taking video of police from less than eight feet away.

The legislation’s sponsor  spoke of its purpose as a protection for both police and civilians. He explained that filming bystanders have been getting too close to on-duty officers, creating dangerous situations for everybody involved.

First Amendment advocates, on the other hand, criticize the law as “chilling.” Why? Because the Arizona law sets an arbitrary boundary of filming not closer than eight feet.

Even in states that don’t dispute the right to film police,  it’s still true that police officers may arrest you if you interfere with their official duties. Officer safety is also a factor.

In Arizona, however, police officers now have legal backing to shut down recording and apprehend you if you film them within eight feet, which distance may have nothing to do with preserving officer safety. People who want to take video with their cell phones may refrain out of fear of arrest, even if they’re more than eight feet away.

This Arizona law may be challenged in court. Stay tuned. 

I represent news media, bloggers, publishers, and citizens interested in government access, and others who operate under the First Amendment—public records; public meetings; newsgathering; avoiding defamation lawsuits; suing Anti-SLAPP violators. My job is to help you get the records and access you need, help you get the story, help you get the story without getting arrested, help get the story published without defaming anyone, and then defend the story after publication. 

If you need help with any of these areas and don’t have an attorney already, contact me: [email protected]. This post is not intended to be legal advice and does not form the basis of a lawyer-client relationship.