The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Bieber's Paparazzi Escapes Prosecution Thanks to the Constitution

Bieber tried to escape the paparazzi. The paparazzi tried to escape prosecution. Bieber got a speeding ticket for his trouble. The paparazzi photographer got his charges dismissed ... most of them anyway.

Back in July, Bieber was pulled over after swerving through traffic at speeds exceeding 80 mph. Paul Raef, the photographer, was chasing Bieber at the same speeds, but was not initially pulled over. After taking his speeding ticket, Raef continued to follow Bieber. Bieber called the police this time and Raef was charged with traffic violations and with violating a new law, California Vehicle Code Section 40008.

The anti-paparazzi law, passed in 2010, prohibits the creation of a dangerous situation for the sake of obtaining a photo for commercial reasons. Raef was the first person to ever be charged under the law.

He may be the last as well. According to the Los Angeles Times, Judge Thomas Rubinson ruled that the law, as applied to Raef, was unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment protections of free speech. He reportedly stated that the law overreached and could affect wedding photographers or other celeb-stalking photographers speeding to a location where a celebrity was located.

So, what’s the issue? This: though free speech is to be held in the highest regard, when a person’s free speech puts others in danger, reasonable restrictions can (and should) be made. The classic example is speech that might incite a riot, such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. Whether the dangerous cameraperson is celeb-stalking paparazzi or a wedding photographer, they are still putting lives at risk for a photo.

(Question: If texting while driving is dangerous, and talking on a cell phone is dangerous, can we all agree that operating a fancy camera while driving is even more dangerous?)

While photography is a form of expressive speech, the right to take photos for commercial reasons could be outweighed by the danger to other drivers by chasing a celebrity at speeds exceeding 80 mph on a crowded freeway. The right to free speech is not absolute.

While Judge Rubinson’s ruling only applied to Raef’s case, should the decision be appealed by the prosecutors, it could lead to a decision on the constitutionality of the law itself.

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