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Federal Court Rules You Can Be Arrested Simply for Filming the Police

Federal Court Rules You Can Be Arrested Simply for Filming the PoliceFederal Court Rules You Can Be Arrested Simply for Filming the Police

The cases of Fields v. City of Philadelphia, and Geraci v. City of Philadelphia involve two different incidents where individuals were arrested for filming the police. Richard Fields, a Temple University student, was arrested after stopping to take a picture of a large group of police outside a house party. Amanda Geraci, a legal observer with CopWatch Berkeley, attended a large protest against fracking in September 2012 and was arrested while filming the arrest of another protester.

Both Fields and Geraci are seeking damages from the Philadelphia Police Department for violating their Constitutional right to videotape public officials. Previous rulings have found the public has a right to record police as form of “expressive conduct,” such as a protest or criticism, which is protected by the First Amendment.

The appeals court was specifically tasked with finding out whether or not the public has a First Amendment right to photograph and film police without a clear expression of criticism or challenge to police conduct.

The court wrote:

Fields’ and Geraci’s alleged ‘constitutionally protected conduct’ consists of observing and photographing, or making a record of, police activity in a public forum. Neither uttered any words to the effect he or she sought to take pictures to oppose police activity. Their particular behavior is only afforded First Amendment protection if we construe it as expressive conduct.

The court ultimately stated, “We find no basis to craft a new First Amendment right based solely on ‘observing and recording’ without expressive conduct.”

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