Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that photographing and filming police officers is not always protected by the First Amendment.
The two cases that brought about the dramatic ruling were Fields vs. City of Philadelphia and Geraci vs. City of Philadelphia, which both involved citizens being detained for photographing police officers.
Federal District Court Judge Mark Kearney wrote that there is no constitutional First Amendment right to film or photograph police officers when the act that you’re filming is not accompanied by “challenge or criticism” of the police conduct.
Another way of saying that is, if you think the police is doing their job correctly and adequately, and you take a picture of the police while they do their job well, that picture has no protection from the constitution and you could be prosecuted. But, if you believe that the police is not doing their job correctly and you “challenge” their conduct, then you can take as many photos and videos of them as you want and not have to worry about being in trouble.
This certainly creates an interesting situation because the person taking photos of the police has the right to determine whether they were taking the photos while they challenged the police’s actions, or if they took the photos while having no criticism of the police at all.
So what does this mean for you? It means if you get pulled over for speeding, and you are frustrated and angry at the police officer, you can pull your phone/camera out and record their actions with no consequence. While at the same time, it means that if you’re pulled over for speeding and you completely understand why and have no problems with the police’s actions, but still chose to record the police’s actions on your phone/camera, you can be prosecuted.
In other words, if you are always challenging and criticizing police’s actions, you can never be in trouble for taking photos of them and filming then.
Federal District Court Judge Kearney may have unwittingly requested the American people to challenge and criticize their own police officers. No one said the justice system had to make sense!
Header illustration based on photo by Jeff Roberson/AP Photo.