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Judge Strikes Down AZ Law on Recording Officers

An Arizona law that would have made it illegal to film police officers within 8 feet of law enforcement activity if the officer asked a citizen or journalist to back off is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled. U.S. District Judge John J. Tuchi, who last year put the new law on hold and now has permanently blocked its enforcement, cited infringement against a clear right for citizens to film police while doing their jobs, The Hill reports. “The law prohibits or chills a substantial amount of First Amendment protected activity and is unnecessary to prevent interference with police officers given other Arizona laws in effect,” Tuchi wrote. Media groups, including a group of Associated Press lawyers and the ACLU, successfully sued to block the law last year, which was passed with the backing of Republicans in the state legislature and signed into law by former GOP Gov. Doug Ducey in July 2022. Prominent law enforcement officials in Arizona refused to defend the law after the lawsuit was filed, however, and legislators refused to defend the law. Even the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Sen. John Kavanagh, said he was unable to find an outside group to defend the legislation.


Such laws are part of a "dangerous legislative campaign" underway, Slate reports. On July 1, an Indiana law went into effect making it a crime to come within 25 feet of an on-duty police officer if ordered to stay back. Legislators in Florida, Louisiana, and New York have produced similar laws. Other states have promised to follow suit. The laws on recording are part of a broader "back the blue" trend. In the wake of the 2020 protests, 42 states have enacted laws creating extra penalties for protesters, with new crimes such as “aggravated riot” and “mob intimidation.” Many states have passed hate-speech laws that protect the police from verbal or symbolic abuse, such as stomping on a “Back the Blue” sign while “smirking in an intimidating manner” (the crime for which a woman in Utah was prosecuted). Anticipating the Arizona ruling, the laws in Indiana, Florida and Louisiana don't mention video. Cops have long tried claiming that [filming them] obstructs their ability to do their job,” observes First Amendment lawyer Ari Cohn. “Now that this argument failed, they are … transparently trying to create a safe space from observation.”

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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