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Right-to-record: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a landmark decision in Turner v. Driver, a case that significantly impacts the First Amendment rights of individuals to record police activities. Contrary to previous misconceptions, this case did not involve a traffic stop nor a person named Debra Turner. Instead, it centered on Phillip Turner, also known as "The Battousai" on YouTube, who was recording outside a police station in Fort Worth, Texas.

The incident began when Turner, standing on a public sidewalk across the police station, was approached by officers who demanded identification, which he refused. Turner was detained but ultimately released without charge. His encounter, which he recorded and posted on YouTube, raised crucial questions about the constitutional right to record police in public spaces.

The Fifth Circuit Court's decision addressed whether the public has a First Amendment right to videotape police officers. The court acknowledged that, as of September 2015, the right to record police activity was not clearly established in their circuit. However, it emphasized that moving forward, such a right should be recognized as it promotes First Amendment principles.

The court's ruling clarified that while there is a right to record police activities, it may be subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. The court did not specify a standard for when it is inappropriate to record police but noted that any restrictions must be narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental need.

Interestingly, the court upheld the district court’s decision to grant qualified immunity to the officers involved under the First and Fourth Amendments. However, it reversed the grant of qualified immunity regarding the unlawful arrest claim against two of the officers, recognizing that the prolonged detention without an investigatory purpose violated Turner’s Fourth Amendment rights.

This decision marks a significant advancement in the protection of civil liberties, particularly the First Amendment right to record police activities. It sets a precedent for the use of technology in promoting transparency and accountability in law enforcement. This case highlights the evolving nature of constitutional rights in the digital age and underscores the importance of judicial decisions in interpreting these rights.

However, it's crucial to understand that this ruling does not provide an unlimited right to record police activities. The decision acknowledges the need for balancing the right to record with public safety and law enforcement interests.

In conclusion, Turner v. Driver serves as a pivotal case in affirming the public's right to record police, championing the principles of transparency and accountability in law enforcement, while also recognizing the complexities involved in exercising this right.

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Lawrence / Nov 19, 2023 at 12:01

Yes he is right the 4th circuit case is Sharpe v. N.C. But, Easly, S.C. says that it doesn’t apply to City Hall. Only Officers

Joe Blaux / Nov 18, 2023 at 19:39

This story needs some clarifications. Turner v. Driver was a 5th circuit decision involving Phillip Turner (a/k/a the battousai). The recent Shape decision out of the fourth circuit helps affirms the right to record the police, but that originated in North Carolina and Dijon Sharpe was the plaintiff.

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