Texas Rep. Jason Villalba (Dist. 114-R) introduces the Kory Watkins Bill

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OK, so it isn’t actually named after Kory, but it might as well be.  Second-term state representative Jason Villalba has introduced Texas House Bill 2918 to basically take away the public’s right to film the police.  The bill would criminalize filming within 25 feet of a police officer unless you were part of the “media,” and if armed, one could be no closer than 100 feet.

This is basically a reaction to the confrontational style of Kory, who has a tendency to get very close to the officers while being loud and armed with either a rifle or a black powder revolver.  So Villalba decided that a new law was needed, despite the fact that there is already a perfectly valid law on the book that deals with the issue.  When questioned on that, Villalba said that many times officers are too busy to tell those filming to step back or to put up yellow crime scene tape.

Uh, Jason?  If they are too busy to tell someone to move back, wouldn’t they be too busy to make an additional arrest?  Because the purpose of the law is to criminalize the gathering of information that can be used to exercise the right to free speech.  The fact that a law is on the books doesn’t magically make people move back, nor does it encourage the police to welcome citizen photographers.  On the contrary, it encourages police officers to suppress free speech.

Villalba practices high-dollar law for a big box law firm, Haynes and Boone, where he is a partner.  The base salary for first year associates is reported to be $160,000 per year, a partner will make much more than that, so it is fair to say that Villalba is not your average Texan.  He’s also arrogant, telling opponents of his censorship bill that he will “destroy” them on Facebook (since deleted) and to vote him “out of office” on Twiter (also since deleted).

This isn’t Villalba’s first incursion into the territory of the First Amendment.  In December, he called for a state constitutional amendment that would protect anti-homosexual bigots from government action.  Only after pretty much everyone objected to it, including most business leaders.

Like many of the efforts of wealthy legislators, this current bill is designed to protect the status quo, not to benefit the public.  Besides that, it is blatantly unconstitutional, creating a special class of citizens who have First Amendment rights while denying it to others.

Buehler v. City of Austin, Where’s the Uproar & Controversy?

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Buehler v. City of Austin, A-13-CV-1100-ML, 2015 U.S. Dist. Lexis 20878 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 20, 2015), was recently decided, and subsequently reported by PhotographyIsNotACrime.com (PINAC).  The decision has some good stuff in it, and some that isn’t so good.  The PINAC article was written by Andrew Meyer, who has a J.D. degree from Florida International, although I don’t know if he’s been admitted to the bar yet.  In any event, I was very surprised to see the errors I was seeing in the article.

First, it was not heard in a state court, which the headline infers it was.  It was decided in federal court.  Second, the case is not heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, at least not yet.  It will go to the Fifth Circuit Court first, which will likely affirm the trial court’s decision.  Then, if the Fifth Circuit does affirm, Buehler will have to request that SCOTUS grant cert., or agree to hear the case.  That, even with the minor split, is a long shot.*

Second, nothing in the decision was legally controversial.  The Fifth Circuit has a different way of viewing probable cause and grand juries than the other circuits.  It’s not that controversial, it just indicates a circuit split.  It’s also not a “legal technicality.”

Third, and this is the one that is most surprising, is that the federal judge said in his order that filming the police was a clearly established right.  Id., at *21-22.  This had not (at least to my knowledge) been stated in the Fifth Circuit yet, although it was clearly established in most of the other circuits.  That issue wasn’t addressed at all in the article.

This article is pure activism, and nowhere close to neutral and unbiased journalism.  It’s one of the reasons that I left PINAC–I love Carlos Miller and what he has and for the most part, continues to do.  It’s needed and he has done an outstanding job, but he needs to exert some editorial control over his staff if he wants PINAC to be respected for its journalism.  If he wants to go the activist route, that’s fine too, but that needs to be out in the open, not hidden.

Finally, although I would like Buehler to succeed, I’m not real keen on his methods.  He’s too confrontational, and yelling at the officers while filming is asking for trouble.  Jeff Grey has as much success (or more) as Buehler and does not unnecessarily agitate the officers.

 

*SCOTUS receives about 10,000 requests for cert. a year and only grants about 75-80 (or 0.8%).  I’m sorry, but less than a one percent shot at SCOTUS does not meet my definition of “is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court” by any stretch of the imagination.

Los Angeles Police Decide that Aerial Photos Violate Privacy…

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But only if it is their privacy, not yours.

Daniel Saulmon (Tom Zebra) was filming again, using his drone, at the LAPD Hollywood station.  The police didn’t like it.

What is hilarious is that the same expectation of privacy that they are claiming is the expectation that they state you, as a private citizen, do not have.

At 4:04 the first officer tried to tell Daniel that he could not fly his drone over police department property.  But these same officers want to be able to fly over other peoples’ property, observe what is below, and obtain search warrants based on those overflights.  That’s legal, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, see California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986) (mere fact that individual has taken measures to restrict some views of his activities does not preclude police officer’s observations from public vantage point where he has right to be and which renders activities clearly visible).

Later in the video, the sergeant tries to tell Daniel that he will be charged with trespass, even if he keeps the drone over the sidewalk.  Ludicrous.

In other words, what the police in LA want is to be able to look in your backyard, but where you can not look into theirs.

 

Pampa, the Panhandle, and more Failure to ID Idiocy

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Here we go again.  Another Texas peace officer with no clue about what Failure to Identify, Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 38.02, actually says.

Andrew was taking photographs of the county courthouse and sees five police and sheriff squad cars on a stop, so he starts to film the scene from across the intersection.  At about 0:55, a Pampa Police Department officer Herrera walks across the street and contacts Andrew.  Their conversation goes well, clearly a consensual stop, and Andrew provides his name and date of birth on Officer Herrera’s request.

At 3:00 into the video, the traffic stop has concluded and Andrew starts to walk away, when he is confronted by Deputy Stokes of the Gray County Sheriff’s Office.  Stokes, who has since become employed by the Pampa Police Department, immediately attempted to seize the photography equipment as evidence.  Stokes refuses to get a supervisor on request, tells Andrew to stop talking, and threatens to arrest Andrew when Andrew points out that he has a First Amendment right to speak.  When that happened, Stokes said that “I think I’ll make up stuff” and attempted to grab the camera from Andrew (at 3:50).

At about 4:20, the demand for ID begins by Stokes and he really shows his ignorance.  First, as has been noted numerous times before, in Texas, under the Failure to Identify statute, one has to be under arrest to be obligated to provide their name, residence address, and date of birth to an officer.  Otherwise, the statute merely makes it an offense to provide fictitious information.

At about 4:40, Stokes tells Andrew that he is not allowed to record peace officers in the public arena while they are conducting a traffic stop.  Stokes is clearly out of his league here.  It is well-established that the public have the right to videotape public officers in a public place.  See Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011); ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012); Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 55 F.3d 436 (9th Cir. 1995); and Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332 (11th Cir. 2000).

This did not start to calm down until Andrew asked the Pampa officers if he could press charges on Stokes for assault.  At that point (7:50), the deputy was told to walk away by Officer Reynolds, who then talked to Andrew.  Stokes comes back over and starts to question Andrew again, and this time tells Andrew that he has to answer Stokes’ questions (at about 10:10).  This is obviously not true, and Andrew calls him on it.  At this point, Andrew is allowed to walk away.

 

When Cop-Blockers Don’t Understand the Law

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Two Cop-Blockers in Odessa, Texas were detained recently and did not like it.  Some of what they don’t like is correct, but much of it is mistaken.  I’ll address their comments, which are in italics.  Here is their video:

We were walking around Odessa Police Department around 7PM, both for exercise, and to get some shots of the building, and parking lot, all of which was captured while standing on a public sidewalk. As the video starts out, you can see use walking around the building complex, joking around and talking, and then we are illegally detained for over 40 minutes by quite a lot of officers. My biggest issue, is that they know very well who we are, and their excuses of us being “suspicious” were completely unfounded and outright lies. Anyway, here are several points we’d like to make about this detainment…

1: Filming from a public, or publicly accessible area is legal, including anything that can be seen in plain view from such locations unless it is sexual in nature, such as filming someone undressing in front of a window, or trying to take a picture down a woman’s shirt. OPD claimed that their facility was exempt from this legal activity. (It’s not)

This was a correct statement.  You can generally film anything you can see in public, with some narrowly limited exceptions (including the ones noted).

2: They changed their story several times as to why we were being detained. First it was suspicious behavior, then it was for filming their “vehicles”, then it was “possible intent to commit burglary”. One officer even went so far as to mention the naval base shooting, as if that was some other reason to think we might be up to no good.

They really didn’t change their stories.  At 3:15, when they first get stopped and are told they are being detained, the officer states that the detention is to make sure that they “are not breaking into people’s vehicles.”  That is a reasonably articulable suspicion of criminal activity based on the actions of the individuals, and it is consistent with the later comments on burglary since breaking into vehicles is Burglary of Vehicles, Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 30.04 (Vernon).  The officer further explained that it was nighttime, the individuals were walking through a parking lot, taking photographs of vehicles, etc.  Guys, that is reasonable articulable suspicion.

3: The supervisor on scene outright lied and said it is illegal to not carry ID on you at all times. This is a complete lie. You are not required to carry ID on you unless you are engaged in an activity that requires such identification, such as driving. You’re not even required by Texas law to provide your name and birthdate unless you are under arrest or legally detained.

The supervisor is ignorant.  There is no requirement under Texas law to carry ID.  I would suggest that the sergeant get hold of a copy of the Texas Penal Code and read it in order to find out what the law allows.  And WTF does Texas Open Records law have to do with photography?  She is really, really ignorant of the law and has no business supervising police officers when she doesn’t understand the law.

4: Upon hearing that the first amendment right of freedom of press was the “legality” I had for filming their facility, she insisted that the Texas state penal code protected police vehicles from being filmed or photographed. (It doesn’t)

More BS by the officers.

5: We were held for longer than 20 minutes, violating the Terry Stop law, from Terry vs Ohio.

This is incorrect info – there is not a “20 minute” time limit on a stop.

6: One officer refused to give us his name and badge number. After we were released I asked the remaining officers for his information and they refused to give it to me as well.

No state law requires that, but most PDs have a policy on identifying themselves.

7: We were apparently SO suspicious that between 15 – 20 cops were on the scene, and yet not once did they feel the need to pat us down to make sure we weren’t armed. They didn’t even ask for a regular search, or even to see the footage we had acquired. This was the biggest indicator that the entire detention was purely for harassment and intimidation.

Actually, that is not correct.  If they did not have reasonable suspicion that you were armed, a pat down for weapons would be unreasonable.  The officers did OK on that part.

8: Officer Aguilar did not let me read over the information he wrote down about me before demanding that I fingerprint myself.

There is no requirement for him to do so.

9: All except one officer on scene acted in an overly aggressive manner, trying their best to intimidate us. (Which didn’t work)

That’s a subjective view, but I can understand both sides here.

10: They claimed they had us on camera entering their parking lot, which we NEVER did. Another lie.

OK, so?

11: All in all, we could have remained silent, refused identification (since they had no reasonable articulable suspicion and therefore no legal right to detain us), gotten arrested on a bogus charge, and later fought it in court, but I was more concerned with getting us home that night. There will always be another time.

They actually had grounds to detain, or at least stated valid grounds, but you are correct, you did not have to ID, but not for the reasons you stated.  The Texas statute does not require a detained subject to ID themselves.  Check my earlier posts on this.

Frisco, Texas Police fail Free Speech Test

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This is from Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

In the news video, the reporter quotes the police report, where the officer states that Ron Martin was “interfering” with his speeding enforcement duties.  It is clear that the officer would have preferred to charge Martin with Interference with Public Duties, which read:

“(a) A person commits an offense if the person with criminal negligence interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes with:  (1) a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law. . . .”  Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 38.15 (Vernon).
The report language tracks the statute, which is how officers are taught to write the report.  It is also clear that the officer could not get past the free speech part of the statute.  It provides not just one, but two defenses.
“(c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(1) that the conduct engaged in by the defendant was intended to warn a person operating a motor vehicle of the presence of a peace officer who was enforcing Subtitle C, Title 7, Transportation Code.
(d) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the interruption, disruption, impediment, or interference alleged consisted of speech only.”  Tex. Pen. Code Ann. § 38.15 (Vernon)
So since they couldn’t charge him with a Class B misdemeanor, they came up with another BS charge, violation of the city’s sign ordinance, Frisco, Tex. Sign Ordinance, 11-01-04 (Jan. 4, 2011), which is only a Class C misdemeanor, normally handled by a ticket and not an arrest.  This ordinance is fairly short, but creates a regulation which is over 50 pages long.  Originally the city argued that the person holding the sign had to be on private property.
This is clearly an attempt to regulate speech by content, based on the city’s reactions to other people carrying signs.  If it is a sign protesting Obama, no problem.  Note that this person was on public property also.

Auburn, Ala. PD Officer Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket Quotas

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This is the type of police officer that a department should want working for them – but instead he is fired for speaking out against quotas.

It is clear that police officers have First Amendment protected speech rights for speaking out on matters of public interest.  For a list of representative cases, see 109 A.L.R. Fed. 9 (Originally published in 1992).  Ticket quotas are clearly a matter of public interest, and “a quota becomes the starting point for the abuse of police discretion.”  Illya Lichtenberg, Police Discretion and Traffic Enforcement: A Government of Men?, 50 Clev. St. L. Rev. 425, 443 (2003).

While some states have an outright statutory prohibition on quotas, c.f. Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 720.002 (Vernon) (prohibiting formal or informal ticket quotas and providing for removal from office for a violation), Alabama does not.  Nevertheless, it is a poor police practice for the reasons noted in the video.

Chief Tommy Dawson who allegedly set the quota, retired effective July 1, 2013.  He has been replaced by Assistant Chief (now Chief) Paul Register, who has the opportunity to make this right.  He may be contacted at pregister@auburnalabama.org or 334-501-3110.

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