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Federal Judge Rules Arizona Law Making It Illegal to Film Cops Within 8 Feet Is Unnecessary

by Jo Ellen Nott

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge John J. Tuci issued a temporary injunction to halt recently passed HB 2319 writing “the Court fails to see how the presence of a person recording a video near an officer interferes with the officer’s activities.”

In his ruling, Tuci sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the Arizona Broadcasters Association, Arizona Newspapers Association, and the National Press Photographers Association in their First Amendment lawsuit.

The law at issue passed on July 6, 2022, which makes it a misdemeanor offense to continue filming police activity from within eight feet of an officer after receiving a verbal warning. Critics of the bill say it violates citizens’ First Amendment rights and is too vague.

The bill’s sponsor John Kavanaugh (R) presented his bill during the Arizona Senate Judiciary Meeting in Spring of 2022, claiming “this [bill] is about preventing violence and misunderstandings, preventing the destruction of evidence and protecting police officers from harm.”

Although the bill includes exceptions for filming in a private residence, during traffic stops, and if the person filming is the subject, those exceptions are qualified. HB 2319 states the exemptions only apply if the person recording is “not interfering with lawful actions” or “unless a law enforcement officer determines that the person is interfering in the law enforcement activity or that it is not safe to be in the area and orders the person to leave the area.” The qualifiers give far too much latitude to the police officer and effectively allow him or her to halt the filming if they perceive their actions might be compromising or lend themselves to excessive force of use allegations.

Across the country, several federal appeals courts have upheld the right to film police as a basic First Amendment activity. Civil liberties groups and media organizations are in vehement opposition to the bill, noting that it interferes with the both the general public’s and the members of the press’ ability to record police activity in crowds, during protests and on narrow sidewalks.

HB 2319 was slated to go in effect on September 24, 2022. Its enforcement is now on hold while the lawsuit continues with the plaintiffs seeking a permanent injunction.

Source: Reason, The Daily Wildcat, 12News

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