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The First Amendment Right to Record the Police

by | Jun 3, 2020 | Firm News

The free speech clause of the First Amendment grants persons the right to film police activity in public. Every federal Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue has confirmed the existence of such a right. See Turner v. Lieutenant Driver, 848 F.3d 678 (5th Cir. 2017); Fields v. City of Philadelphia, 862 F.3d 353 (3d Cir. 2017); Gericke v. Begin, 753 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2014); Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ill. v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012); Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011); Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332 (11th Cir. 2000); Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436 (9th Cir. 1995).

As the Fifth Circuit noted recently in Fields, the filming of police activity, and the subsequent broadcasting of such films by news media, has played an important part in shaping the public’s understanding of the police and their role in our society. 862 F.3d at 354 (discussing the importance of George Holliday’s recording of Rodney’s King’s beating in 1991 and the subsequent broadcast of the video).

If a law enforcement officer violates a person’s right to record the police, that person has a civil remedy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for government deprivation of the constitutional right of free speech. Remedies can include money damages and enjoining government actors from violating such rights in the future.

Further Reading

Copwatching, 104 Cal. L. Rev. 391 (2016)

Pervasive Image Capture and the First Amendment: Memory, Discourse, and the Right to Record, 159 U. Pa. L. Rev. 335 (2011)