Legal Limbo: The Fifth Circuit's Decision in Turner v. Driver Fails to Clarify the Contours of the Public's First Amendment Right to Record the Police
Stephanie Johnson, Legal Limbo: The Fifth Circuit's Decision in Turner v. Driver Fails to Clarify the Contours of the Public's First
Amendment Right to Record the Police
Legal Limbo: The F ifth Circuit's Decision in Turner v. Driver Fails to Clarif y the Contours of the Public 's First Amendment Right to Record the Police
Stephanie Johnson 0 1
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1 See Al Baker et al., Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death,N.Y. TIMES
(June 13, 2015),
ht/t/pwsw:w.nytimes.com/2015/06/14/nyregion/eric-garner-police-chokeholdstaten-island.html [https://perma.cc/3JA6-XYUK] (discussing the police interaction that led to
Eric Garner’s death and the effects of a bystander’s recorded video).
3 See id.
4 See Matt Ford, A Major Victory for the Right to Record Polic,eATLANTIC (July 7, 2017),
533031/ [https://perma.cc/R52Q-AJRL] (discussing the recent legal developmentsrelating to the
public’s First Amendment right to record the police). Ramsay Orta’s video, and other videos of
police encounters with unarmed black men and women that rapidly circulated on social media,
sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and national protests about the importance of police
reform. Id.; Nicole Narea, Protecting the Right to Record Police Brutality,NEW REPUBLIC (Oct.
for Orta’s video and the countless other cellphone recorded videos by
mmebers of the public that have shown the fatal interactions between citizens and
police in the United States, it is unlikelythat there would be such a strong
national call to action for better policing polic5ieOs.ver the past several
years, there has been a growing movement to protect the public’s right to
record the police.6 In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
dadressed the public’s ability to record police activity inTurner v. Driver.7 The
Turner majority opinion concluded that “First Amendment principles,
controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First
Amednment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time,
place, and manner restrictions.”8
With this decision, the Fifth Circuit joined the majority of theFederal
Courts of Appeals in ruling that the public has a First Amendment right to
videotape encounters with law enforcement9. Although Turner established
that the public has a First Amendment right to film the police, it skirted the
question of whether the particularconduct in Turner—video recording
po7, 2016), https/:/newrepublic.com/article/137533/protecting-right-record-police-brutality [https://
perma.cc/3AZD-GJ2P] (discussing the need for policymakers to step in and addressthe retaliation
that citizens face from the police for video recording the police).
5 See Mercy Benzaquen et al.,The Raw Videos That Have SparkedOutrage Over Police
Treatment of Blacks, N.Y. TIMES (Dec. 14, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/
19/us/police-videos-race.html [https://perma.cc/E4JJ-WVFB] (describing and depicting a timeline
of video footage of police using excessive force and questionable police behavior with African
Americans); Ford, supra note 4.
6 See Narea, supra note 4. There has been public pressure on states and cities to create policies
that protect the right to film the police.Id. “Colorado passed legislation making it illegal to interfere
with civilians lawfully recording the police” in May 2015I.d.; see COLO. REV. STAT. § 13-21-128
(2016) (giving the public a right to recover against a police officer who seizes, destroys, or damages a
person’s recording device or video while lawfully recording an incident with the police officer). In
addition, California passed similar legislation that clarifies a First Amendment right to record the
police while they are on duty in a public space, “without fear of intimidation or arrest” in 2015.
Nraea, supra note 4; see CAL. PENAL CODE § 69(b) (2016) (clarifying that a person who lawfully records
a police officer is not deterring that officer from performing his or her duties). While not as forward
as Colorado and California, the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) distributed a “Right to
Know” internal memo with changes to the police administrative rules. Naresau, pra note 4. These
changes require officers to hand out business cards when requested and request consent to conduct
searches in the absence of legal basisS.ee J. David Goodman, New York Council Won’t Vote on
Police Reform Bills, but Agency Agrees to Chan,geNs.Y. TIMES (July 12, 2016), https//:www.
html [https://perma.cc/4NG8-NR5J]. Nonetheless, these administrative changes do not have the same
power as legislation, and compliance is contingent upon the NYPD’s internal enforcement of sthee
new rules. See id.
7 See Turner v. Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 687 (5th Cir. 2017).
8 Id. at 688.
9 See id. at 687 (citing ACLU of Ill. v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583, 608 (7th Cir. 201)2, Glik v.
Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 82, 85 (1st Cir. 2011), anSdmith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332,
1333 (11th Cir. 2000)). No federal appellate court has ruled to the contrary and the U.S. Supreme
Court has not ruled on the subject. Ford, supra note 4.
lice activity and/or video recording the police statio—nwas protected First
Amendment activity.10 The Fifth Circuit’sfailure to apply the particular
facts of Turner to the established rule left the contours of the public’s First
Amendment right to film the police in legal limbo.11 In her dissenting opinion
in Turner, Judge Edith Brown Clement recognized that the majority erred by
establishing a law without particularizing it to the facts in the case.12
This Comment focuses on the zone of conduct protected by the
public’s First Amendment right to film the poli1c3e.Part I of this Comment
provides an overview ofTurner, with a focus on the Fifth Circuit’s First
Amendment analysis.14 Part II discusses the current state of the law with
respect to the conduct parameters of the public’s First Amendment right to
video record the police and analyzes legislation passed by Colorado, eO-r
gon, and California to secure this righ15t.Lastly, Part III argues that the
Fifth Circuit should have clarified exactly what conduct was clearly
established after their ruling in Turner to add to the standard for the zone of
conduct protected by the First Amendment right to record the police.16
10 See Turner, 848 F.3d at 685. The Fifth Circuit analyzed Turner’s conduct through
thetwopronged qualified immunity test. Id. Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil
liability when acting in their official capacity and when their “actions could reasonably have been
believed to be legal.” Id. When a defendant raises a qualified immunity defense, the plaintiffhas
to show “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was
clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.I”d. (internal quotations omitted). The
Fifth Circuit made it clear thatbecause the district court’s qualified immunity analysis rested on
the “clearly established” prong and not the constitutional right violation prong, the Fifth Circuit
would follow the same sequence of analysis. Id. The Fifth Circuit, however, had the discretion to
analyze the constitutional right prong first. Id. Nevertheless, the Fifth Circuit upheld the police
officers’ qualified immunity defense, reasoning that at the time of the alleged condu,cthe First
Amendment right to record the police had not beenclearly established. See id. at 687. By showing
that the law was not clearly established, the Fifth Circuit ended its analysis on Turner’s conduct
and remained silent as to whether Turner was actually exercising a First Amendment right that
was subsequently violated by a public official. See id.
11 See id. at 697 (Clement, J., dissenting) (“The majority does not determine that the officers
here violated Turner’s First Amendment rights—perhaps because it would be reasonable for
security reasons to restrict individuals from filming police officers entering and leaving a police as-t
tion. Because the majority does not hold that the officers actually violated the First Amendment,
‘an officer acting under similar circumstances’ in the future will not have violated any clearly
established law.”) (quoting White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 552 (2017).
12 See id.
13 See infra notes 14–127 and accompanying text.
14 See infra notes 17–47 and accompanying text.
15 See infra notes 48–104 and accompanying text.
16 See infra notes 105–127 and accompanying text.
I. ANALYSIS OF TURNER V. DRIVER
In February 2017, the Fifth Circuit, in Turner v. Driver, ruled that the
public has a First Amendment right to record the police.17 Section A of this
Part examines the facts and procedural history in Turner.18 Section B of this
Part provides an in-depth analysis of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Turner.19
A. Turner v. Driver: Facts and Procedural History
In September 2015, Phillip Turner videotaped the Fort Worth Police
Station from a public sidewalk located across the street.20 He was not
carrying any weapons21. While videotaping, two police officers approached
Turner and asked to see his identification card“(ID”).22 Turner refused to
show the officers his ID and proceeded to ask if he was being detaine2d3.
One of the officers responded that Turner was being “detained for
investigation and that the officers were concerned about who was walking around
with a video camera.2”4 Turner asked for which crime he was being
detained and the same officer replied, “I didn’t say you committed a crime.”25
After being asked for his ID and refusing to present it for a second time,
Turner was suddenly detained, handcuffed, and placed in the back of the
officers’ patrol car2.6 Turner asked to see a superviso2r7. A supervisor
arrived on the scene and after a brief time, Turner was released without a
Turner brought a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the
two police officers and their supervisor in the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Texas, alleging that the officers violated his First
Amendment right to record police activityand his Fourth Amendment rights to be
free from “detention absent reasonable suspicion” and unlawful arr2e9st.
Each police officer filed a motion to dsmiiss, alleging that they were
enittled to qualified immunity for Turner’s cause of actions.30
The qualified immunity doctrine protects government officials from
liability for damages “when their actions could reasonably have beeen- b
lieved to be legal.3”1 When a defendant asserts a qualified immunitye-d
fense, the burden falls on the plaintiff to prove that it does not apply32.
According to the district court in Turner’s case, to meet the qualified immunity
burden, a plaintiff must show “(1) that the officialiovlated a statutory or
constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established’ at the
time of the challenged conduct.”33 The district court granted the police
ofthe place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”); 42 U§.1S9.C8.3 (2012)
(providing a private remedy for violations of the Constitutionby government actors); Turner, 848
F.3d at 684, 690.
30 Turner, 848 F.3d at 684. Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil
alibility when acting in their official capacity and when their “actions could reasonably have been
believed to be legal.” Id. at 685. When a defendant raises a qualified immunity defense, the
planitiff has to show “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the
right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Id.
31 Id. at 685. Qualified immunity provides a layer of protection to government offi,cials
thereby enabling them to fully perform their duties and exercise their discretion without the fear of
financial liability or litigation. Sonja Marrett, Turkmen v. Hasty: The Second Circuit Holds
Highest Ranking Law Enforcement Officials Accountable for Post–9/11 Policies Infringing on
Constitutional Rights, 57 B.C. L. REV. E. SUPP. 194, 209 (2016), http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/
viewcontent.cgi?article=3506&context=bclr [https://perma.cc/NV7Y-NT6U] (arguing that
quailfied immunity should not apply in the national security context because it prenvts victims from
recovering damages in constitutional and counte-trerrorism lawsuits). Yet critics argue that this
type of protection is unnecessary because all law enforcement officers are represented by counsel
for free and are indemnified for settlements and judgments entered against them. Joanna C.
Schwartz, How Qualified Immunity Fail,s 127 YALE L.J. 2, 59 (2017)
(“In the six-year period
from 2006 to 2011, law enforcement officers in forty-four of the seventy largest law enforcement
agencies paid just 0.02% of the dollars awarded to plaintiffs in police misconduct suits.”)
32 Turner, 848 F.3d at 685. There is currently a circuit split regarding who has the burden of
proof on a qualified immunity defense. Kenneth Duvall,Burdens of Proof and Qualified
Immunity, 37 S. ILL. U. L.J. 135, 143–45 (2012) (arguing that the defendant should bear the burden of
proof when invoking a qualified immunity defense). The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Tenth and vE-le
enth Circuits place the burden of proof on the plaintiffI.d. at 143–44. Conversely, the First,
Second, Third, Ninth, and D.C. Circuits place the burden of proof on the defendant.Id. at 144–45. In
addition, the Fourth and Eight Circuits take a slightly different approacIhd. at 145. The Eight
Circuit places the burden of establishing that the law was clearly established on thpelaintiff and
places the burden of establishing that the defendant did not violate a constitutional right on the
defendant. Id. The Fourth Circuit does the opposite. Id.
33 Turner, 848 F.3d at 685; see also Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232, 236 (2009)
(laying out the two-pronged qualified-immunity test and granting judicial discretion regarding which
prong to address first). nI 2001, in Saucier v. Katz, the U.S. Supreme Court ruledthat the
qualified-immunity test must be addressed in proper sequence. 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001) (requiring that
courts must first answer whether the alleged facts violated a constitutional right, andif a violation
occurred, the court would then continue to the “clearly established” prong). Id. The Court changed
this requirement in 2009, inPearson v. Callahan, and allowed courts to use thediriscretion to
decide which prong to address firs.t 555 U.S. at 236 (relaxing the sequence and granting judicial
discretion for analyzing qualified immunity).
ficers’ motions to dismiss, finding that Turner did not show that the police
officers acted unreasonably and in violation of any of his clearly established
constitutional rights.34 Turner appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit.35
B. Discussion of the Fifth Circuit’s Decision in Turner v. Driver
On February 16, 2017, the Fifth Circuitaffirmed in part and reversed
and remanded in part the district court’s order dismissing Turner’s
U.S.C. § 1983 claims on the basis of qualified immunity.36 The Fifth Circuit
reasoned that at the time of Turner’s arrest, neither the U.S. Supreme Court
nor the Fifth Circuit had determined whether First Amendment protections
extended to filming police.37 Therefore, the court could not say that the law
clearly and unambiguously prohibited the police officers’ conduct3.8 Given
the circuit split regarding whether or not the First Amendment right to film
the police has been clearly established, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district
court’s ruling that the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity
against Turner’s First Amendmentcivil rights violation allegation.39 The
Fifth Circuit’s holding in Turner set precedent by ruling, as a matter of first
impression, that recording police activity is protected by the First
Amdenment, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.40
Although the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Turner’s First
Amendment claim, itreversed the district court’sdismissal of Turner’s
Fourth Amendment claim by holding that the police officers were not
enittled to qualified immunity under Turner’s Fourth Amendment rights viao-l
tion that claimed that the police officers arrested him without probable
cause.41 The Fifth Circuit reasoned that the Fourth Amendment right to be
34 Turner, 848 F.3d at 684.
36 Id. at 696.
37 See id. at 686 (stating that because neither of these courts had addressed the public’s First
Amendment right to record the police prior toTurner, then the right was not clearly established in
the Fifth Circuit’s jurisdiction).
38 See id. at 686–87 (“Circuit courts are split as to whether or not there is a clearly established
First Amendment right to record the public activities opfolice. The circuit courts are not pslit,
however, on whether the right exists.”).
39 Id. at 686 (“If judges . . . disagree on a constitutional question, it is unfair to subject police
to money damages for picking the losing side of the controversy.”)(quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526
U.S. 603, 618 (1999). When the state of a constitutional law is underdevelopedp,olice officers
cannot be expected to predict the future course of the law. Wilson, 526 U.S. at 617.
40 Turner, 848 F.3dat 687 (“Although the right was not clearly established at the time of
Turner’s activities, whether such a right exists and is protected by the First Amendment presents a
separate and distinct question. Because the issue continues to arise in the qualified immunity
context, we now proceed to determine it for the future.”).
41 See id. (the Fifth Circuit examined the plaintiff’s First and Fourth Amendment claims and
held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity fromthe plaintiff’s § 1983 claim that
the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause).
free from arrest without probable cause was clearly established andthat no
objectively reasonable person would believe there to be probable cause to
arrest Turner given the circumstances.42
Judge Clement dissented from the Fifth Circuit’s majority opinion with
regard to the establishment of a First Amendment right to film the police
and the reversal of the qualified immunityruling for the officers under
Turner’s Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest claim.43 In discussing the First
Amendment right to film the police, she focused on the Supreme Court’s
insistence that expressly stated, recognizedlaws should be unambiguous,
rather than obscure or abstract.44 In fact, Judge Clement asserted that clearly
established law should be specific to the unique circumstances of the case.45
She reasoned that the majority asserted a First Amendment right to film the
police that was unnecessary and unconnected to the particular facts in the
case.46 Thus, by failing to connect the factsof Turner’s case to the First
Amendment right the majority subsequently established and by failing to
determine if the police officers actually violated that right, theFifth Circuit
did not properly set out the law as they intended.47
II. ANALYSIS OF THE ZONE OF CONDUCT PROTECTED BY THE PUBLIC’S
FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT TO RECORD THE POLICE IN CASE
LAW AND STATE LEGISLATION
In Turner v. Driver, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
addressed whether the public has a First Amendment right to videotape the
actions of police officers.48 The Fifth Circuit held that the public does have
a right to film law enforceme,ntbut that the recordingof police officers
may be curtailed by reasonable time, place, and mannerlimitations.49 The
Fifth Circuit agreed with every circuit that has ruled on this question that
the First Amendment principles of free speech extend to the right to film the
42 Id. at 694 (explaining that Turner neither aggressively threatened—or otherwise provoked—
the officers nor attempted to flee or leave the scene).
43 Id. at 696 (Clement, J., dissenting).
44 Id. at 696–97 (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 742 (2011)).
45 Id. at 697 (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)).
46 Id. (“To the extent there is any consensus of persuasive authority, those cases focus only on
the narrow issue of whether there is a First Amendment right to film the police ‘carrying out their
duties in public.’ Turner did not allege that he filmed police officers conducting their public
duties, but rather that he filmed a police station.”) (internal citations omitted).
47 See id. (“Because the majority does not hold that the officers actually violated the First
Amendment, ‘an officer acting under similar circumstances’ in the future will not have violated
any clearly established law.”).
48 Turner v. Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 690 (5th Cir. 2017).
49 Id. The Fifth Circuit did not find it necessary to address the time, placaen,d manner
restrictions in Turner because there were none imposed or in placeat the time of the plaintiff’s
police.50 A significant reason for the Fifth Circuit’s determinationwas that
“filming the police contributes to the public’s ability to hold the police
cacountable, ensure that police officers are not abusing their power, and make
informed decisions about police policy.”51 In making this determination, the
court relied on precedent that focused on the First Amendment’s protection
of news-gathering, film, and the right to receive information and ide5a2s.
Yet, the court did not explain which specific time, place, and manne-r r
strictions would be reasonable inthe situation that arose in Turner.53 The
only clarifications given regarding these restrictions was that they must be
“narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest5.”4 Section A
of this Part focuses on the case law that developed the First Amendment
right to record the police5.5 Section B of this Part focuses on state
legiasltion that codifies this right.56
A. Case Law Establishing the First Amendment
Right to Record the Police
Prior to Turner, there was a growing consensus among the courts that
First Amendment rights exist for individuals who video record the public
tivities of police.57 In 2000, in Smith v. City of Cumming, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held thata plaintiff had a First Amendment
right to photograph or videotape police conduct on public property because
the First Amendment protects the public’s ability to gather information on
public officials who are acting in their official capacities in public places.58 In
Smith, the plaintiff, a member of the public, believed that the
CummingoPlice Department was inappropriately stopping vehicles in order to increase
ticket revenue.59 Accordingly, the plaintiff used a police scanner to track
oplice cars and videotape random traffic stops6.0 The plaintiff videotaped these
traffic stops from public property and did so without interfering with the
police officers’ ability to do their wor6k1. Nonetheless, the police obtained an
arrest warrant for plaintiff and arrested him at his jo6b2.The case regarding
plaintiff’s arrest was dismissed and he filed a 1§983 complaint against the
city alleging First Amendment violations.63 Even though the Eleventh Circuit
reasoned that the public had the right to record the activity of police on public
property, it held that the plaintiff did not offer sufficient evidence to prove the
actions of the police rose to the level of a § 1983 claim.64
In 2007, in Glik v. Cunniffe, the U.S. Court of Appeals for theFirst
Circuit provided more clarity on the types of conduct included within the
public’s First Amendment right to record the police6.5 In Glik, the plaintiff
was walking past the Boston Commons—a public park in Boston—when he
witnessed police officers arresting a man.66 After hearing a bystander
comment on the officers’ use of excessive force during the arrest, the plaintiff
used his cell phone to film the officers from a distance, withoustpeaking to
the officers or otherwise interfering with their actions in any way.67 After
informing the officers that he was video recording the arrest, the plaintiff was
arrested on several charges, including for a violation of the Massachusetts
wiretap statute.68 The plaintiff brought a civil rights action against the officers
and the City of Boston alleging First and Fourth Amendment rights violations
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; the officers raised qualified immunity defenses.69
The First Circuit startedtheir analysis of the First Amendment civil
rights claim with the first prong of the qualified immunity testby
considering whether there is a constitutionally protected right torecord law
enforcement acting in their official capacity in public.70 The court held that the
answer was a resounding yes.71 Although the First Amendment specifically
mentions the press, given the technloogical advances, there is now a fine
line between a journalist and a private citize72n.Moreover, the increased
availability and usage of smart phones and cameras make news creation just
as likely to come from citizens on their personal deviceass a professional
journalist.73 Thus, the Glik court held, the First Amendment news gathering
protections must extend to the public.74 With this analysis, the First Circuit
concluded that First Amendment principles encompassed filming police
officers performing their duties in a public place.75
In Glik, the First Circuit focused on two parameters when deciding that
the plaintiff had a First Amendment right to record the police7.6 First, it
focused on the location of the videotaping, the Boston Common, noting that it
was “the oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a public
forum.”77 Given the traditionally public nature of the park, the state’s ability
to limit free speech there was trsingently constrained.78 Second, the First
Circuit focused on theplaintiff’s distance from the defendanst while
filming.79 The court stated that the plaintiffrecorded the officers from asafe,
appropriate distance and neither verbally harassed them nor interfered with
their actions in any manner, only answering their questions ande- stat
ments.80 Given these facts, the court reasoned that the plaintiff’s peaceful
recording of an arrest in a public space did not interfere with the police
foficers’ performance of their duties.81
Building on both the persuasive and controllingdecisions handed
down by the various Courts of Appeals that have ruled on the First
Amendment right to record the police, in 2015i,n Higginbotham v. City of New
York, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that
the right to record police activity “at least in the case of a journalist who
was otherwise unconnected to the events recorded, was in fact ‘clearly
established.’”82 While the Higginbotham court focused its holding on the
videorecorder being a journalist who was a nonparticipant in the events that he
was recording, its reasoning contributed to a deeper understanding of the
zone of conduct protected by this First Amendment right.83
76 See id. at 84.
78 Id. (citing Perry Educ. Ass’n v. Perry Local Educators’ Ass,’n460 U.S. 37, 45 (1983))
(emphasizing that the U.S. Supreme Court is strongly against the state limiting the public’s First
Amendment activity in traditionally public spaces).
81 See id.
82 105 F. Supp. 3d 369, 380 (S.D.N.Y. 2015;) see also Alvarez, 679 F.3d at 608 (invalidating
a state’s eavesdropping statute and holding that the First Amendment protects audio recording
police officers performing their duties in publ)ic; Glik, 655 F.3d at 82 (holding that the First
Amendment protects video recording police officers and that right was clearly established); Smith,
212 F.3d at 1333 r(ecognizing First Amendment right to video record policeofficers subject to
time, place, and manner restrictions); Fordyce, 55 F.3d at 439 (recognizing the First Amendment
right to film matters of public interest after he plaintiff was arrested for filming the police at a
83 See Higginbotham, 105 F. Supp. 3d at 381(clarifying that the First Amendment right to
record police exists when the recording is done from a reasonable distance and ends when the
recording prevents the police officers from fully performing their duties). The plaintiff was in this
In Higginbotham, the plaintiff was arrested while filming an arrest
during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Manhattan, New York from the
top of a telephone booth8.4 Subsequently, the plaintiff filed §1983 claims
for First and Fourth Amendment violations.85 The court held that the
plaintiff’s First Amendment rights were violated8.6 Nonetheless, in making that
determination, the court noted that the right to video record poliicsenot
without limits.87 The court explained that the right to record the police may
not apply: 1) “in particularly dangerous situations,” (2)“if the recording
interferes with the police activity,” (3) “if [the recording] is surreptitious,”
(4) “if [the recording] is done by the subject of the police activity,” or (5) “if
the police activity is part of an undercover investigation.8”8 These five
explicit exemptions served to broadly expand the understanding of thep- a
proved and unapproved conduct for filming the police.89
B. State Legislation on the Right to Record the Police
Several states have passed legislation to protect the public’s
Amendment right to record the poliec.90 These statutes codify the public’s
zone because he did not interfere with the arrest that he was recording and was at the protest in his
role as a professional journalist. Eugene VolokhF,irst Amendment Generally Protects
Videoercording of Police, and This RightIs ‘Clearly Established,’ WASH. POST (May 14, 2015), https://
[https://perma.cc/NG29-PAV3] (arguing that the court’s holding on the clearly established prong
of the qualified immunity test is a big win for the plaintiff because it enables him to collect
mdaages from the defendant). Thus, a reasonable police officer would have been on notice that retia-l
ating against the plaintiff for filming violated his First Amendment rights. Id.
84 See Higginbotham, 105 F. Supp. 3d at 372.
85 Id. at 372, 378 (alleging a false arrest that violated plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights and
a First Amendment retaliation claim; these claims are similar to the plaintiff’s claims in Turner).
86 Id. at 381, 382.
87 Id. at 381.
88 Id. The court held that the plaintiff’s conduct was protected by the First AmendmenIdt..
This was because he was a professional journalist and was at the demonstration to record it and
not to participate in it. Id. Additionally, there was no record that showed that his filming interfered
with the police performing their duties during the arrets. Id. The court concluded that “a
reasonable police officer would have been on notice that retaliating against a non-participant, professional
journalist for filming an arrest under the circumstances alleged would violate the First
89 See id.; Clay Calvert, The First Amendment Right to Record Images of Police in Public
Places: The Unreasonable Slipperiness of Reasonableness & Possible Paths Forw,ar3dTEX.
A&M L. REV. 131, 139–62 (2015) (discussing the history of the First Amendment right to record
the police and explaining case law that has articulated the contours of that right).
90 See CAL. PENAL CODE § 69(b) (2016) (providing that a person who takes a photograph or
makes an audio or video recording of a police officer in a public place is not preventing that
officer from performing his dutie)s; COLO. REV. STAT. § 13-21-128 (2016) (giving the public the
right to recover civil damages when a police officer destroys or unlawfully seizes video from a
First Amendment right to record the police, but they still leave uncertainty
regarding the contours of that ri9g1htS.pecifically, there is ambiguity
around what constitutes police activit y92. The state of Colorado pasesd a
statute that broadly interprets the zone of conduct protected by the First
Amendment right to record the police9.3 Colorado’s statute, which was
enacted on May 20, 2015, gives members of the public the right to record any
incident involving a policeofficer.94 It also allows the public to maintain
both custody and control of the recording and the device used to record,
preventing the police from seizing the recording device without a search
warrant or subpoena.95 Yet, the Colorado statute fails to define the term “an
incident.”96 This lack of a clear definition expands when the public can
record the police, and leaves it to the courts t ointerpret the phrase “an
incident.”97 Courts may even interpret the Colorado law as giving the public a
much broader right than just recording the police publicly performing their
Oregon and California have also passed legislation in 2015 that
portects the First Amendment right to record the police, btuhte language in
both pieces of legislationis more specific than the language found in the
Colorado statute.99 Oregon’s statute allows the public to record a
conversation in which a police officer is a participant if the officer aicsting in an
official capacity, the recording is made “openly and in plain view of the
participants in the conversation,” the conversation “recorded is audible to the
person by normal unaided hearing,” and the person recording is in a place
he or she has the right to b1e00. Although Oregon’s statute is much more
specific than Colorado’s statute regarding the parameters of when the public
can record the police, it fails to define “official duties.”101 This results in the
lack of clarity regarding exactly what the public can record the policeo-d
ing.102 California’s statute regarding recording police officers has similar
language to Oregon’s statute, but instead of giving the public the ability to
record the police “performing official duties,” it allows the public to record
the police “while the officer is in a public place or the person taktihneg
photograph or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to
be.”103 The California statute focuses on where the police officers aren-i
stead of what they are doing when they are being recorded.104
III. THE FIFTH CIRCUIT’S FIRST AMENDMENT HOLDING IN
TURNER AND THE NEED FOR A CLEAR STANDARD
Although the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s 2017 dei-c
sion in Turner v. Driver established that the First Amendment right for the
public to record the police exists, it did not further clariftyhe conduct
included within the parameters of that right1.05 This is particularly important
because it is ambiguous whether the Fifth Circuit’s holding aligns with the
100 OR. REV. STAT. § 165.540(5). Prior to the enactment of the law, it was a crime to record a
conversation in Oregon without specifically informing the parties to the conversatiVonic.tory!
The Right to Film the Police Passes the Oregon Legislature,ACLU OR. (June 16, 2015), https://
cc/ET7D-ESQ4]. The law amended Oregon’s eavesdropping statute by addingan exemption for
recording police officers. Id.; § 165.540(1)(c) (stating that it is unlawful to record conversations
without the consent of all participants). This exemption changed the requirement that a member of
the public specifically inform the officer that he or she is being recordedto allowing a member of
the public to record the officer without consent if, among other requiremen“ttsh,e recording is
made openly and in plain view.” § 165.540(5)(b)(B).
101 Compare OR. REV. STAT. § 165.540(5), with COLO. REV. STAT. § 13-21-128.
102 Compare OR. REV. STAT. § 165.540(5), with COLO. REV. STAT. § 13-21-128. These bills
highlight that lack of a clear definition of “official duties” makes it difficult for the public to know
when they can and cannot record the police and may lead to members of the public exercising
their right to record the police incorrectlyC.ompare OR. REV. STAT. § 165.540(5), with COLO.
REV. STAT. § 13-21-128.
103 CAL. PENAL CODE § 69(b). The office of the state senator who introduced the bill that
would become § 69(b), Senator Ricardo Lara, released a statement on the day that the bill was
signed into law byCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown that provided further insight on why the bill
was created. Governor Brown Signs Right to Record A,cRtICARDO LARA (August 11, 2015),
[https://perma.cc/5CVL-QKS9]. The statement notes that“[a]t a time when cell phone and video
footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to
Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.” Id.
104 CAL. PENAL CODE § 69(b).
105 See Turner v. Driver, 848 F.3d 678, 697 (5th Cir. 2017) (Clement, J., dissenting).
facts in the case1.06 By failing to particularize the facts in the case to the
established First Amendment right to record the police, the Fifth Circuit
failed to add to the zone of conduct protected by this right and has left the
public without a clear path forward.107
Turner’s majority opinion and dissent make it clear that at no point did
the Fifth Circuit classify the plaintiff’s action to determine whether he was
filming the police station, the police entering and exiting the police station,
and/or both.108 Moreover, the Fifth Circuit failed to determine if Turner had
a protected First Amendment right to record the police during the event in
question.109 These determinations are absolutely pivotal to further
establishing the contours of the First Amendment right to film the police, especially
given that other Courts of Appeals, having established this righ,t did so
when a member of the public was arrested for filming a police arrest or
Judge Clement focused on this ambiguity in her dissent iTnurner.111
She argued that there is a consensus of persuasive authority on the First
Amendment right to film the police acting in their official capacity as
officers in public.112 Yet, at no point did the Fifth Circuit determine whether or
not the police were carrying out their duties in publicn Turner.113 Judge
Clement focused on the point that Turner alleged that he was filming the
police station, not that he was filming the police officers conducting their
public duties.114 Since the Fifth Circuit did not determine that Turner’s First
Amendment rights were violated, the court did noptroperly establish that
Turner had a First Amendment righ, tnor did it establish that his conduct
was within the zone of conduct protected by the First Amendment right to
film the police1.15 In fact, it added no clarity to the currently developing
body of law surrounding the filming of police officersthat is in need of
The Fifth Circuit erred by not clarifying the contours of the
Amendment right to film the police1.17 With the emergence of technology
and the pervasive use of smartphones in the United States, more people than
ever before have the ability to record the police and disseminate videos to a
broader audience in a short period of tim1e1.8 In fact, an assessment from
the Pew Research Center shows that 77% of Americans own smartphones
and 70% Americans use social media.119 With recent campaigns from
advocacy organizations, such as theAmerican Civil Liberties Union,
encouraging the public to record the police, the courts have a responsibility tocreate
a clear standard so thatindividuals can confidently exercise their First
Amendment rights.120 Additionally, only a few states have passed legias-l
tion codifying the right to record the police, and thestatutes that have been
passed are not detailed enough.121 The lack of clear definitions regarding
what and when the public can record, particularly concerning police
actiivties, makes it difficult for thesepieces of legislation to provide adequate
protections.122 Thus, the courts can no longer put the contours of the First
Amendment right to film the police on the bacbkurner.123 This is a front
burner issue and the courtshave a responsibility to create a clear standard
for the public.124
The particular facts inTurner were unlike any of the cases that have
addressed the First Amendment right to film the police and, therefore, the
Fifth Circuit should have addressed this unique set of facts1.25 Judge
Clement was correct in her dissent in Turner when she declared that because the
majority did not rule that the police officer violated the plaintiff’s First
Amendment right, another officer acting in the same manner and under
similar circumstances would not be violating any clearly established 1l2a6w.
This application of the First Amendment right to film the police to the facts
in Turner would have strengthened the authority of the case and provided
guidance for future claimants and courts.127
In 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on the
public’s ability to record police activity iTnurner v. Driver. WithTurner, the
Fifth Circuit had the opportunity to either expand or restrict the scope of
conduct that is protected by the public’s First Amendment right to film the police.
It failed to do either. By failing to connect the particular afcts in the case to
the First Amendment right to film the police and determine whether Turner’s
conduct was even protected by said right, the Fifth Circueitffectively
abdicated its judicial responsibility. The Fifth Circuit established that the public
has a First Amendment right to video record the police without adding any
context or support to that right, outside First Amendment principles. As Judge
Clement discussed in her dissent, defining this First Amendment right at such
a high level of generality, without particularizing it to the facts in the ca,se
does a disservice to future claimants and weakens theprecedential power of
the opinion. Additionally, given the current social and political climatiet,
keeps a pressing issue that deserves clarificantioon the backb-urner.
Although the Fifth Circuit established that the public has a First Amendment
right to video record the police, it failed to clarify the contours of that right.
highlight the injustices and brutality during the freedom marches and how the high use and
avaialbility of smartphones are having the same effect during the Black Lives Matter era).
124 See Jay Stanley, The Video Revolution in Policing, ACLU (Sept. 4, 2014, 1:39 PM),https://
www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/video-revolution-policing?redirect=blog/video-revolutionpolicing [https://perma.cc/T43C-DS8N]. This blog post by aAnmerican Civil Liberties Union
Senior Policy Analyst explains that historically, judges, juries, and prosecutors have viewed police
officers as more credible than the victims of police brutality and the emergence of videos from
cellphone offers objectivity and another lens of visibility. Id.
125 See Turner, 848 F.3d at 686.
126 Id. at 697 (Clement, J., dissenting).
127 See id.
Thus, the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Turner leaves this newly developing body
of case law without a sense of clarity or path forward.
Preferred Cite: Stephanie Johnson, Comment, Legal Limbo: The Fifth Circuit’s Decision in Turner
v. Driver Fails to Clarify the Contours of the Public’s First Amendment Right to Record
theoPlice, 57 B.C. L. REV. E. SUPP. 245 (2018), http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol59/iss9/245/.
50 See id . at 687; ACLU of Ill. v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 , 608 ( 7th Cir . 2012 ) (holding that the First Amendment protects the audio recording of police and concluding that an Illinois wirpe-ta ping statute burdens the public First Amendment rights); Glik v . Cunniffe , 655 F.3d 78 , 82 , 85 ( 1st Cir . 2011 ) (holding that the public has a First Amendment right to videotape the police given First Amendment principles and case law); Smith v . City of Cumming , 212 F.3d 1332 , 1333 ( 11th Cir . 2000 ) (holding that there exists a First Amendment right to videotape policseubject to time, manner , and place restrictions).
51 Turner, 848 F.3d at 689 . The Fifth Circuit further reasoned that “filming the police also frequently helps officers; for example, a citizen's recording might corroborate a probable cause finding or might even exonerate an officer charged with wrongdoing . ” Id.
52 Id. at 688 (describing the First Amendment's history of protecting film and newsgathering). The First Amendment protects newsgathering “from any source by means within the law .” Houchins v . KQED, Inc., 438 U.S. 1 , 11 ( 1978 .) This protection extends to films and the act of making films . Kingsley Int'l Pictures Corp . v. Regents of Univ. of State of N.Y., 360 U.S. 684 , 688 ( 1959 ). In addition to the First Amendment's protection of the broader right to film, the prniciples underlying the First Amendment support the particular right to film the polibceecause it leads to government accountability . Mills v. Alabama , 384 U.S. 214 , 218 ( 1966 ).
53 Turner, 848 F.3d at 690.
54 Id. Restrictions on the public's right to record police receive heightened judicial scrutiny, yet it is not quite on the level of strict scrutinSye . e Elizabeth J. Frawley , No Calling Cut: The Political Right to Record Police,17 U. PA. J. CONST . L. 287 , 295 - 96 ( 2014 ) (arguing that restrictions on the right to record the police should be given the highest level of scrutiny giveno-p lice officer's power and potential for abuse) . This is because although these restrictions are content neutral, they encompass poltiical speech that the First Amendment protects, resulting in the higher review standard . Id.
55 See infra notes 57-88 and accompanying text.
56 See infra notes 89-103 and accompanying text.
57 See ACLU of Ill., 679 F. 3d at 608 (holding that the First Amendment protects audio recording police officers); Glik, 655 F.3d at 82 (holding that the First Amendment protects video recording police officers); Smith, 212 F.3d at 1333 (holding that the public has a First Amendment right to video record police officers subject to time, place , and manner restrictions).
58 212 F. 3d at 1333;see also Fordyce v . City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436 , 439 (9th Ci1r9 . 95) (recognizing a broad First Amendment right to record incidents of general public concern); Blackston v . Alabama , 30 F.3d 117 , 120 ( 11th Cir . 1994 ) (holding that filming public meetings is portected by the First Amendment) .
59 Taylor Robertson , Lights, Camera, Arrest: The Stage Is Set fora Federal Resolution of a Citizen's Right to Record the Police in Public, 23 B.U. PUB. INT . L.J. 117 , 131 ( 2014 ) (summarizing the facts of Smith) .
62 Id. at 131-32.
63 Id. at 132.
64 See Smith , 212 F. 3d at 1333 (stating that under 42 U .S.C. § 1983, the plaintiffs needed to prove that the police's conduct deprived them of a constitutional right, and even though the planitiffs had a right to videotape police activities, they did not provide enough evidence to show that the police's actions violated that right).
65 655 F. 3d at 82 (clarifying that members of the public should be a safe and appropriate dsitance away from the police officer so that they do not interfere with the police's duties) .
66 Id. at 79.
67 Id. at 80.
68 Id. at 86- 87 . The Massachusetts wiretap statute makes it a crime to “willfully comm[it] an interception . . . of any wire or oral communication . ”Id. at 86 (quoting MASS. GEN. LAWS ch . 272 , § 99(C) (1) ( 2010 ) ) . The court noted thatthe term “interception” under the statute is defined to mean “to secretly hear, secretly record, or aid another to secretly hear or secretly record the contents of any wire or oral communication through the use of any intercepting device by any person other than a person given prior authority by all parties to such communication.”Id. (quoting ch . 272 , § 99(B) (4)) . The Glik court had to determine if the plaintiffhad secretly videotaped the police officers . Id. at 87 . The court found that the plaintiff openly recorded the police because his phone was in plain view; thus, he was not in violation of the wiretap law . Id.
69 Id. at 80.
70 See id . at 82 ( using its discretion and analyzing the constitutional right prong of the quia-l fied immunity doctrine first in order to establish the right to record the polic .e) Most courts have used this discretionto avoid theconstitutional right prong and have only analyzed the clearly established prong . See Karen M. Blum , Qualified Immunity: Further Developments in the Pos-t Pearson Era, 27 TOURO L . REV. 243 , 248 ( 2011 ) (arguing that the majority of courts assess the second prong of the qualified immunity test first to avoid analyzing whethera constitutional rights violation occurred).
71 Glik, 655 F.3d at 82 (citing Houchins , 438 U.S. at 11) (mentioning the right to gather news from any lawful means);see also First Nat'l Bank of Bos . v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 , 783 ( 1978 ) (reasoning that the First Amendment prevents government from limitingthe stock of information from which public may draw); Stanley v . Georgia , 394 U.S. 557 , 564 ( 1969 ) (reiteratingthe wellestablished and constitutionally protected right to receive information and ideas ).
72 Glik, 655 F.3d at 84; Kate BulkleyT,he Rise of Citizen Journalis m , GUARDIAN (Jun. 10 , 2012 ), https://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/jun/11/rise-of-citizen-journalism [https://perma.cc/ 9NC6-T8NY] (discussing how the increase in technology is changing the documentary filmmaking landscape by allowing citizen journalists to add a richer dimension to current affairs).
73 Glik, 655 F.3d at 82; Bulkley, supra note 72 (discussing that the new digital world of social media makes it difficult for the public to judge the value of an amateur video shot on a cellphone against a documentary broadcasted on traditional television).
74 See Glik , 655 F.3d at 82.
106 See id.
107 See infra notes 108-127 and accompanying text.
108 See Turner, 848 F.3d at 687; infra notes 108-127 and accompanying text.
109 See id.
110 See Glik v. Cunniffe , 655 F.3d 78 , 82 , 80 ( 1stCir . 2011 ) (showing that the plaintiff was arrested for filming an arrest in a public park;)Smith v . City of Cumming , 212 F.3d 1332 , 1333 ( 11th Cir . 2000 ) (showing that the plaintiff was arrested for filming the police conducting traffic stops).
111 See Turner , 848 F. 3d at 697 (Clement , J., dissenting).
113 See id.
115 See id.; Calvert, supra note 89, at 139-62 (discussing the case law that highlights the conduct parameters protected by the First Amendment right to record the police ).
116 See Turner , 848 F. 3d at 697 (Clement , J., dissenting); Matthew SlaughterF,irst Amendment Right to Record Police: When Clearly Established Is Not Clear Enough, 49 J. MARSHALL L. REV. 101 , 121 ( 2015 ) (arguing that the right to record police in public is a prudent policy decision