HomePoliticsLouisiana's new law will make it a crime to approach police under...

Louisiana’s new law will make it a crime to approach police under certain circumstances

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – Critics of a new Louisiana law that makes it a crime to approach a police officer within 25 feet under certain circumstances fear the measure could limit the public’s ability to film officers obstruction – a tool that is increasingly used to hold the police accountable.

Under the law, anyone convicted of “knowingly or intentionally” approaching an officer “lawfully engaged in the performance of his official duties” and after being ordered “not to approach or pulling,” be fined $500, up to 60 days in jail, or both. The law was signed Tuesday by Gov. Jeff Landry, a Republican, and will take effect Aug. 1.

While the legislation’s language does not specifically mention filming, critics say this standard would limit how close someone can be to observe police. Opponents have also gone further to question the constitutionality of the law, saying it could hinder someone’s First Amendment rights.

Supporters argue that the new law will create a buffer zone to help ensure officer safety and that bystanders will still be close enough to film police interactions.

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Bystander cellphone videos are largely credited with exposing police misconduct — such as with the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers — and reshaping the conversation around police transparency.

Elsewhere, an attempt has been made to establish a specific range within which spectators can record officers actively engaged in law enforcement duties.

In 2022, Arizona lawmakers passed a law that would have made it illegal to knowingly film police officers 8 feet away or closer when the officer tells the person to stop. A coalition of media groups and the American Civil Liberties Union successfully sued to block the Arizona law, with a federal judge ruling it unconstitutional, citing an infringement on a well-established right to film police doing their work do.

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

The author of the Louisiana measure, state Rep. Bryan Fontenot, said the legislation was designed to provide officers “peace of mind and safe distance to do their jobs.”

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“At 20 feet away, that person can’t spit in my face when I make an arrest,” Fontenot said when he presented his bill in a committee earlier this year. “The chance of him hitting me in the back of the head with a beer bottle at a height of 7 meters is definitely a lot more difficult than if he were sitting here.”

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

“Each of us has a constitutional right to freely observe public servants as they function in public and within the course and scope of their official duties,” Edwards, who served in the U.S. Army and was the son of a sheriff, said last year . veto message. “Observations of law enforcement, whether witnesses to an incident involving officers, individuals interacting with officers or members of the press, are invaluable in promoting transparency.”

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However, with a new conservative governor in power and the Republican Party continuing to maintain a supermajority in the Louisiana Legislature, the bill had a clear path forward.

The language in the measure appears to create some safety nets, stating that an acceptable “defense to this crime” includes a finding that the “lawful command or command was not received or understood by the suspect.”

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