New Louisiana law will criminalize approaching police in certain circumstances

Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (AP) — Critics of a new Louisiana law that makes it a crime to come within 25 feet of a police officer in certain circumstances worry the measure could hamper the public’s ability to filming police officers – a tool that has Increasingly, this practice is used to hold the police to account.

Under the law, anyone found guilty of “knowingly or intentionally” approaching an officer “lawfully engaged in the performance of his official duties” and after being ordered to “cease approaching or beating retired” is subject to a fine of up to $500. up to 60 days in jail or both. The law was signed by the governor. Jeff Landry, Republican, on Tuesday and will take effect in August. 1.

Although the text of the law does not specifically mention filming, critics say it would by default limit how close a person can be to observe police. Opponents also went further to question the constitutionality of the law, saying it could interfere with a person’s First Amendment rights.

Supporters argue the new law will create a buffer zone to keep officers safe and that bystanders will stay close enough to film interactions with police.

Cell phone videos of passers-by are widely credited with exposing police misconduct – as with the Murder of George Floyd in 2020 at the hands of Minneapolis officers – and reshape the conversation around police transparency.

An attempt to establish a specific range at which bystanders can record officers actively engaged in law enforcement tasks has been made elsewhere.

In 2022, Arizona passed a law that would have made it illegal to knowingly film police officers from 8 feet (2.5 meters) or more if the officer tells the person to stop. A coalition of media groups and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued to block Arizona lawa federal judge found it unconstitutional, citing a violation of a clearly established right to film police doing their job.

In similar cases, half of U.S. appeals courts across the country have ruled in favor of allowing people to record police without restrictions.

The author of the Louisiana measure, State Rep. Bryan Fontenot said the legislation was written to give officers “peace of mind and a safe distance to do their job.”

“At 25 feet, this person can’t spit in my face when I’m making an arrest,” Fontenot said when introducing his bill in committee earlier this year. “The chances of him hitting me in the back of the head with a beer bottle from 25 feet – it’s definitely a lot harder than if he was sitting here.”

An almost identical bill was Vetoed last year by then-Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. Edwards called the measure “unnecessary” and said it could be used “to curb the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

“Each of us has the constitutional right to freely observe public officials performing their duties in public and in the course of their official duties,” said Edwards, who served in the U.S. Army and was the son of ‘a sheriff, during last year’s Veto. message. “Observations of law enforcement, whether made by witnesses to an incident with officers, by individuals interacting with officers, or by members of the press, are invaluable in promoting transparency. »

However, with the arrival of a new conservative governor and the retention of the Republican Party’s large majority in the Louisiana Legislature, the bill had a clear path forward.

The language of the measure appears to put in place some safety nets, asserting that an “acceptable defense to this crime” includes establishing that “the order or lawful order was neither received nor understood by the accused “.

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