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First Amendment Has Press Limits, Court Rules

(CN) - Police officers in Oakland, Calif., did not violate the First Amendment rights of a photographer when they told him to leave the scene of an accident, and then arrested him after he refused, the 9th Circuit ruled.

The San Francisco-based appellate upheld a District Court's grant of summary judgment for the city of Oakland, two police officers and the police chief in an unpublished opinion.

Raymundo Chavez of the Oakland Tribune had filed suit after he was arrested in 2007 for parking his car on a highway to take a picture. Chavez's vehicle blocked a fire truck's direct access to the accident site.

In his federal complaint Chavez claimed that police "had interfered with his right as a member of the press to cover news, specifically a car crash and the emergency response time," the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2008. Chavez had also claimed that he was humiliated when the police handcuffed him.

"Chavez's First Amendment claims fail because he has not demonstrated that he was deprived of any federal constitutional right," the 9th Circuit's unsigned, Feb. 16 opinion states.

"Chavez fails to present any evidence that members of the public generally had a right to park on Interstate 880 and exit their cars to take pictures of the accident scene," the ruling continues.

Though reporters are authorized by Oakland police to stop and park at accident scenes on interstate highways, Chavez did not have the right to remain after being directed by officers to leave, the court ruled.

The judges noted that, based on "undisputed facts," the Oakland Fire Department had to drive around Chavez's car to get to the accident, and that the police had reason to believe that he was impeding the normal flow of traffic.

As a result, police had probable cause to cite and arrest the photographer after he was told twice to leave the scene, but refused to do so, the ruling states.

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