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AZ Considers Police Filming Limits Despite Constitutional Right

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on January 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Arizona Senator John Kavanagh has proposed a law that will make it illegal to film police up close when they are working. The legislation would make it a crime punishable by up to six months in jail and a $300 fine to film police within 20 feet of their work, reports Ars Technica.

But similar proposals have failed in others states and the law on filming police has been settled by courts around the country. We do have a First Amendment right to record police officers at work in public as long as it is not surreptitious or disruptive.

The Senator Says

Senator Kavanagh is aware of the Constitution and the First Amendment guarantee of free expression. But he does not see it as a problem for his proposal.

He told the Associated Press, "Basically what this law says is if the officer is engaged in law enforcement activity, so he's making an arrest or he's questioning a suspicious person, you can film, but you've got to stay back 20 feet. The reason being when you get closer, you become a distraction, the officer doesn't know if you're a threat, and that jeopardizes everybody's safety, including the officer."

Although courts have in recent years increasingly affirmed citizen rights to film police, Kavanagh believes his 20-foot radius does not limit constitutional rights. "The First Amendment is subject to reasonable restriction," he said. "And asking somebody to simply stay back 20 feet so you don't interject yourself into the scene and become a distraction to me seems reasonable."

Reasonable Minds Differ

But reasonable minds can and do differ and there are many who disagree with the Arizona Senator's position. Similar limitations on filming police in Texas were proposed and scrapped after opposition.

Meanwhile, states like California and Colorado went the other way, passing laws that protect citizens from police retaliation for filming. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the legislation is just unnecessary as police can order people away from a crime scene.

In Trouble?

If you do find yourself in trouble with the law -- whether because you were filming police or for any other reason -- speak to a lawyer. Do not delay. Get help today.

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