August 28, 2017By Brian Manchester
This is a question that has been circulating around the country for some time now and we still do not have a completely clear answer. The Courts that are mainly dealing with this issue are the Federal Courts. To understand what is happening here you have to have a basic understanding of the way the Federal Courts are set up. First there are 94 total district courts scattered across the US is in several US territories. Then there are 12 regional circuit courts of appeal for the district courts. Then there is the highest Court in the United States the US Supreme Court. Pennsylvania is part of the 3rd circuit court which also included New Jersey and Delaware.
In addition to all the Federal Courts state Courts have been answering this questions as well. However Federal Law controls state law. Thus if a Federal Court rules one way they will influence the states that are within its circuit.
The Eight Circuit is the most recent of the Circuits to issue a ruling on whether or not you can record the police and any public official in public spaces. The ruling by the Eight Circuit was not in line with the rules already issued by First, Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits. All of these Circuits ruled that public officials can be filmed in public spaces because there is no expectation of privacy when you are in public. The Eighth Circuit just ruled against this.
Now this creates an issue with competing rulings between the Circuits. Should the Eighth Circuit not reconsider and change their decision this would be a ripe case to take to the US Supreme Court to hopefully get a definitive answer on this question. However there is no guarantee the US Supreme Court will even accept the case or if they accept the case they could side step the real issue and rule in some other means.
The Third Circuit which includes Pennsylvania stated the following when addressing this issue.
Judge Thomas Ambro agreed that both Defendants held a constitutional right to record the police—a right that officers violated in both instances. “The First Amendment protects the public’s right of access to information about their officials’ public activities,” Judge Ambro wrote. This access “is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse” on public and political issues, the most highly valued First Amendment activity. Thus, the government is constitutionally barred from “limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw.”
The Eight Circuit which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas stated the complete opposite as the other six Circuits ruled. Stating “he has no constitutional right to videotape any public proceedings he wishes to.” And “[N]either the public nor the media has a First Amendment right to videotape, photograph, or make audio recordings of government proceedings that are by law open to the public.”
At least for now in the Third Circuit you do have a right under the First Amendment to record the police and other public officials when they are out in the public.
It is extremely important to contact an experienced law firm right away if you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania. If you, your son, daughter, or loved one in Pennsylvania has been arrested for a crime in state or federal court in Pennsylvania you need legal representation. Here at Manchester and Associates we represent people across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. For a free consultation, we can be contacted at 1-800-243-4878.