Federal Court Upholds You Have a First Amendment Right to Live Cops

Yes, you are well within your First Amendment rights to broadcast live videos of police officers in action. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this in a ruling released this week.

That really shouldn’t have been a question. Courts have repeatedly confirmed the right to photograph or film police officers.

But police officials in Winterville, North Carolina, insisted that the video posted on social media was different. During a 2018 traffic stop — which car passenger Dijon Sharpe began sharing on Facebook Live — an officer tried to take Sharpe’s phone, calling it an “officer safety issue.” Another officer told Sharpe, “Going forward, if you go on Facebook Live, your phone will be confiscated…and if you don’t give up your phone, you’ll go to jail.”

Sharpe sued. And a US district court ruled against him, writing “that an individual’s First Amendment right to record a traffic stop” and “real-time transmission of a traffic stop from a stopped car” is not “clearly established.” This meant that the officers involved were entitled to qualified immunity.

Sharpe then took the case to a federal appeals court, and a horde of civil liberties groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Institute for Justice, the Cato Institute and the National Police Accountability Project — backed his position.

This time, the court partially sided with Sharpe.

Winterville “he failed to establish that the alleged the policy of livestreaming is sufficiently grounded and adapted to a strong government interest to survive First Amendment scrutiny,” the court decided Tuesday, written by Judge Julius N. Richardson. “So we reverse the order of the district court declaring the policy constitutional and remanding it for further proceedings.”

“Creating and disseminating information is protected speech under the First Amendment,” Richardson noted:

And other courts have routinely recognized that these principles extend the First Amendment to recording—especially when the information involves matters of public interest such as police encounters….

We agree. Recording police encounters creates information that contributes to the debate about government affairs. Likewise, livestreaming spreads this information, often creating its own record. Therefore, we hold that a live broadcast of a police stop is speech protected by the First Amendment.

Regardless, the Winterville police officers are still entitled to qualified immunity, the court concluded. Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, police officers are open to individual liability only if they commit a violation clearly established a right protected by the Constitution. But the legality of the live traffic stop was not clearly established, the judges said.


“The state of our union is shit.” In yesterday’s Get together, we covered President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address and his strange quest to micromanage the minutiae of American travel. Since then, Reason published half a dozen posts dealing with various other aspects of Biden’s comments and proposals.

“The state of our union is shit,” he writes Reason Editor at Large Matt Welch looks at the big picture of Biden’s speech. “The bipartisan (albeit vociferous!) embrace of big-government nationalism ensures that our populist moment won’t end anytime soon.”

the rest Reason writers have addressed Biden’s comments on immigration, education, policing, etc. Check them out:

• Biden’s foreign policy has gone astray

• The police officers who killed Tyre Nichols could be convicted of murder and More Get qualified immunity

• Biden’s claims about universal preschool education are untrue

• Biden’s proposed assault weapons ban is unconstitutional, unlikely and ineffective

• Biden’s anti-vaping policy undermines cancer risk

• Calls to ‘close the border’ in response to fentanyl deaths are misguided

Bonus: Joe Lancaster looks at the Republican response to Biden’s speech, which was “light on policy and heavy on complaints.”


On vanity license plates, selective censorship and Tennesseans’ fondness for DEEZNTS:

The case in question involves a Nashville woman, Leah Gilliam, whose vanity plate – 69PWNDU – was deemed unlawfully offensive by the Tennessee IRS. More than the lawyer handling the case here.


Gun rights in Biden’s America. Today, Reason Senior Editor Nick Gillespie, Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum and Heritage Foundation Legal Fellow Amy Swearer will discuss gun rights and gun violence in Biden’s America live.

Biden is definitely not a fan of gun rights. But a series of court decisions and policy changes “have expanded Second Amendment rights over the past several decades,” Gillespie notes. Are gun rights increasing or decreasing these days? And what about armed violence?

Tune in to YouTube starting at 1:00 PM ET to hear their discussion.


• “Labor Department’s internal watchdog has identified nearly $30 billion more in pandemic unemployment benefits that were misfiled than previously estimated,” reports Politically. This brings the total illicit payout to approximately $191 billion.

• The House Oversight Committee is fighting Twitter censorship the wrong way, writes Robby Soave. “The House Republican majority’s approach — hauling tech executives before Congress and attacking them as victims of government pressure — is counterproductive to the goal of defending free speech on the Internet, as well as a terrible example of Republican members of Congress doing the very thing they claim to oppose.”

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