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Mar 14 2013

DOJ Supports Right to Record Police

In a very encouraging development, the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest in Garcia v. Montgomery County to support a First Amendment right to record the police. The case involves a journalist who was arrested for doing so in Maryland.

The filing is specific and detailed and argues strongly against the use of generic criminal charges to intimidate those who record the police.

First, the United States urges the Court to find that both the First and Fourth Amendments protect an individual who peacefully photographs police activity on a public street, if officers arrest the individual and seize the camera of that individual for that activity. Second, the United States is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace, and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. The United States believes that courts should view such charges skeptically to ensure that individuals’ First Amendment rights are protected. Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges. Third, the First Amendment right to record police officers performing public duties extends to both the public and members of the media, and the Court should not make a distinction between the public’s and the media’s rights to record here. The derogation of these rights erodes public confidence in our police departments, decreases the accountability of our governmental officers, and conflicts with the liberties that the Constitution was designed to uphold.

The Obama administration has been mostly terrible when it comes to criminal justice and civil liberties, but bravo for taking on this important issue. Time and time again we have seen video footage show that police officers have lied on police reports and engaged in brutality and abuse for which they would not otherwise have been held accountable. It is a crucial check on police misconduct and brutality.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    RH

    I notice that the quote you provide appears to go to some length to avoid the term Audio. They specifically site photographing, but not audio tape. I hope they intend ‘recording’ to cover both visual and audio recording.

    Honestly I think we need a federal law making recording of law enforcement in public, or in any specific interaction with YOU legal in all situations, and add it to the Miranda statement.

  2. 2
    RH

    Oh… and violation of that right should carry a minimum sentence of never being permitted to hold a law enforcement position of any kind ever again.

  3. 3
    hunter

    “. . . for which they would not otherwise have been held accountable.”

    They’re almost never held accountable anyway.

  4. 4
    eric

    I’m a cynic – I bet they wouldn’t support it if it came to FBI agents. They support it here because putting limits on state and local police forces does not directly impact their exercise of federal power. If they thought it would, I bet they’d be on the other side.
    So, let’s get this ruling on the books…then apply it to federal law enforcement. :)

  5. 5
    d.c.wilson

    I’ll say it again:

    Any honest policeman should welcome recording of their activities because it will protect them from false accusations of abuse.

  6. 6
    abb3w

    The statement also mentions the “Color of Law” statutes; however, it does not seem to directly state “citizen recording facilitates gathering evidence when Color of Law violations occur”, which would have been nice.

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