Reporters Committee and other press organizations ask California Supreme Court to review law targeting photography, First Amendment expression

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and seven co-amici filed a friend-of-the-court letter brief on Nov. 10 in People v. Raef, asking the California Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold California Vehicle Code 40008.

Raef involves the constitutionality of California Section 40008, part of the state’s anti-paparazzi statute, that penalizes those violating general driving laws while having the “intent to capture any type of visual image . . . for a commercial purpose.” Photographer Paul Raef was charged under the law in 2012 after being accused of reckless driving on a Los Angeles freeway while attempting to take photos of celebrity Justin Bieber.

Unfortunately, after the trial court found the statute unconstitutional because it targeted First Amendment activity and was overinclusive, the Court of Appeal upheld the statute, concluding that Section 40008 was a law of general application that does not target speech or single out the press for special treatment and is neither vague nor overbroad.

In our amicus letter brief to the California Supreme Court, we argue the Court of Appeal’s decision must be reviewed because Section 40008 is not a law of general applicability and it has more than an incidental effect on speech. We believe the Court of Appeal also erred in giving undue deference to police and prosecutors in enforcing this vague law that will harm journalists.

Allowing Section 40008 to stand would rubber stamp the California Legislature’s decision to enact unconstitutional laws that specifically target expression and broadly affect speech. Amici requested that the California Supreme Court review the Court of Appeal’s decision and strike down Section 40008 as violating federal and state Constitutions.

Because this amicus letter brief was my first official legal document submitted to a court since being sworn into the Louisiana bar in October, I am particularly proud of this letter and the milestone it represents in my career. I look forward to many more opportunities to advocate for the First Amendment in the future.

Click here for a PDF version of the letter brief.

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UPDATE – 1/21/16: The California Supreme Court denied review in Raef.

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