Judge's Ruling: No First Amendment Right To Record Police

Judge’s Ruling: No First Amendment Right To Record Police

Philly Judge Says Citizens Have No First Amendment Right To Catch Heinous Police Acts On Camera

In this land overflowing with selfies, dinner tables where everyone is texting and ignoring the people right in front of them, and dick pics flying all over the place, there aren’t many things mobile devices are used for that actually contribute to our society. But capturing evidence of police officers abusing their authority and using excessive, violent force without merit? That’s one of the few good things we get out of everyone in America carrying a video camera in their pockets at all times.

Or at least it should be. But a judge in Philadelphia ruled earlier this year that American citizens have no First Amendment rights when it comes to recording police. US District Judge Mark Kearney said in a February ruling that American citizens have no constitutional right to record police officers, unless they openly tell the police that they’re recording them with the intent of using the videos to criticize the officers.

Kearney says that “we find there is no First Amendment right under our governing law to observe and record police officers absent some other expressive conduct,” adding that citizens need to express to the police that they’re being recorded, while also stating their intent with the recording. Otherwise, those citizens do not carry any First Amendment rights.

Let that sink in for a moment: Kearney believes American citizens do not deserve their constitutional rights without first offering a disclaimer to the dangerous, armed law enforcement officials they’re recording, officers who are actively showcasing in that moment that they are violent and unhinged.

Kearney’s ruling doesn’t make it illegal, in Philadelphia or anywhere else, to record police officers. If upheld, it would however mean that the citizens recording those police officers would not have First Amendment protections while doing so.

Thankfully, Kearney’s ruling sits alone in a field of rulings by other judges who have ruled to the contrary, and an appeal of Kearney’s decision is currently underway. But if that appeal should fail, this seemingly nit-picky interpretation of the United States Constitution could open the door to sweeping legislation that could make it illegal for citizens with private cameras to record the police, regardless of what those police are doing or just how unethical or even outright illegal those police are behaving.

Last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed HB 1538, which would protect the identities of police officers when they discharge their firearms or use force, unless those officers are found guilty of crimes related to those specific acts. So it’s not much of a stretch to imagine lawmakers in Pennsylvania or elsewhere outlawing the recording of police officers.

Police officers provide an essential service to the communities of this nation, and to the nation itself as a whole. But as is the case with any profession, some number of law enforcement officials most certainly abuse their power and authority and go well beyond the realms of ethics and morality in pursuit of their duties. Citizens capturing those criminal excesses on camera are providing equal service to their communities. No one should be above the law, particularly those we entrust with upholding it.

Photo by Fibonacci Blue

Matt Terzi is a political satirist and essayist from Binghamton, New York, who has written for some of the most prominent satire publications in the country. He’s now moving into more “serious” subject matter, without losing touch with his comedic roots

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App

Matt Terzi is a political satirist and essayist from Binghamton, New York, who has written for some of the most prominent satire publications in the country. He’s now moving into more “serious” subject matter, without losing touch with his comedic roots

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App