Federal Judge Halts Arizona Ban on Filming Police Within 8 Feet

A federal judge has ended Arizona’s controversial new state law that prohibits people from photographing and filming police officers within 8 feet. The new law, which opponents have called a violation of free speech, was due to come into force on September 24.

The Arizona Republic reports that U.S. District Court Judge John Tuchi sided with those critics on Friday, halting the enforcement of Bill 2319 with a preliminary injunction and setting a one-week deadline for any state agency willing to fight for the law to speak.

The Associated Press reports that Tuchi’s quick decision was made after Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the Maricopa County District Attorney and Sheriff’s Office told the judge they had no plans to uphold the law.

HB 2319 was signed into law on July 6 by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and imposes penalties of misdemeanor accusation and up to thirty days in jail for anyone who catches police activity within a prohibited distance of 8 feet (2.5 meters). ) — or closer if the office orders the person to stop. Additionally, officers can order someone on private property to stop recording if they determine the action interferes with their duties or the area is unsafe, even if the person is filming with the owner’s permission. .

Critics of the law include the media, journalism groups (such as the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)) and civil rights activists.

Photojournalists have also argued that the law would make it difficult, if not impossible, to cover certain newsworthy events.

Smartphone cameras have become ubiquitous, and photos and videos of bystanders captured with them have lately been credited with exposing police misconduct. Free speech advocates argue that such images should not be hampered as they are an essential part of police oversight and transparency. Supporters of HB 2319, however, argue that the limits are necessary to thwart those who deliberately use their cameras to impede police officers from carrying out their duties.

“The problem is that there are already a number of laws on the books that, in theory, could be used to prevent actual interference with law enforcement,” said ACLU Chief Legal Officer Jared Keenan. Arizona Republic. “The law did not criminalize interfering with the judicial officer. It only criminalized the activity of recording a law enforcement officer within 8 feet.

Republican Representative John Kavanagh, the retired police officer who sponsored the law, said he was surprised by Brnovich’s refusal to defend it.

“I assumed the attorney general would be doing his job as a state attorney and defending a law passed by the state,” Kavanagh told AP. “We are trying to get together with the Speaker (of the House) and the President (of the Senate) and see if the Legislature will defend it, but it is also possible that an outside group will intervene. […]

“I think [the law] is incredibly reasonable. And if what’s causing the problem is me limiting it to just those law enforcement characters in all encounters, how ironic that trying to limit the scope of the government’s reach is unconstitutional. But I guess that’s the world we live in.

Kavanagh notes that his original bill had already been amended several times in response to ACLU concerns, including reducing the distance from 16 feet to 8 feet, limiting the scope of police activities to which it applies (including including questioning suspects and encounters involving mental health/behavioural health issues) and exempting certain people from the ban (including subjects of interactions with police and those in stopped cars).

Matthew Kelley, the DC-based attorney representing media plaintiffs in the ongoing legal battle, celebrated the judge’s ruling as a victory for First Amendment protections.

“There was nothing in the law that said the person recording had to interfere with law enforcement or harass officers or do anything that would create a danger or a distraction,” Kelley told AP. “All it prohibited was just standing there, videotaping. And since that’s a First Amendment protected activity, that law was prima facie unconstitutional.

If no party comes forward to defend the law, the preliminary injunction looks set to become permanent, and this legal battle in Arizona would become one of many cases in recent years in which the courts have decided to allow the passers-by to record the police. without restriction.

Picture credits: Header photos from Depositphotos

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