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The Right to Film Police

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest Friday in the case of a journalist arrested in 2011 for filming police officers in Montgomery County, Maryland. According to Politico, the Department affirmed the right of individuals to record police under the First Amendment.

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department filed a statement in Maryland federal court that argued not only that individuals have a First Amendment right to record police officers doing their duties in public, but that those recordings are protected from seizure without a warrant or due process under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Department urged the court to uphold these rights and declined a motion to dismiss by Montgomery County in the case Garcia v. Montgomery County.

“The United States is concerned that discretionary charges, such as disorderly conduct, loitering, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, are all too easily used to curtail expressive conduct or retaliate against individuals for exercising their First Amendment rights. … Core First Amendment conduct, such as recording a police officer performing duties on a public street, cannot be the sole basis for such charges,” the statement said.

In Garcia v. Montgomery County, photojournalist Manny Garcia is suing after an incident in which Baltimore police officers arrested him and confiscated his camera’s memory card when Garcia filmed officers arresting two men using what Garcia believed to be excessive force. Garcia informed police that he was a journalist and complied with all of their instructions except to stop filming.

Nonetheless he was placed in handcuffs and arrested. Police confiscated his camera, removing the battery and memory card. According to the complaint they also kicked him to the ground, taunted and insulted him, and threatened to arrest his wife if she tried to take his camera.

The ruling in the case will have repercussions for several cases nationwide. Police personnel are coming under increased scrutiny thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones. In most cases in which police departments have attempted to prosecute individuals who film officers, the federal government has ruled that the First Amendment supports their right to do so.

This piece was originally published on

David Ferguson

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