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Why the Paparazzi Don’t Need to Fear California’s New Anti-Paparazzi Law

Jennifer Garner and Halle Berry worked strenuously to get the California Legislature to pass their anti-paparazzi law in September 2013. However, this law has yet to change the behavior of the paparazzi.

Anti-Paparazzi LawAs generally defined, California Senate Bill 606 forbids the paparazzi from photographing or attempting to photograph celebrity children without the consent of their parents or guardians. If enforced, the paparazzi may be punished with up to 6 months of jail time and a $10,000 fine.

Even so, the anti-paparazzi law has embedded three big defenses for the paparazzi. The paparazzi is only guilty if he knowingly and willfully take a photograph of a specific child that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the child or ward, and that serves no legitimate purpose. Essentially, the three defenses are: (1) the paparazzi didn’t knowingly take a photo; (2) the taking of the photograph was not alarming, etc; and (3) the paparazzi had a legitimate purpose of photographing the child.

The paparazzi can also challenge the constitutionality of the law, since the law may violate the freedom of the press in the First Amendment. The law does not define what actions constitutes “alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes.” And it does not determine the degree of paparazzi misconduct constitutes a violation. If there is no definition of the terms, then all paparazzi actions may be a violation of the anti-paparazzi law. Thus, the law may be deemed vague and over-broad.

Although the anti-paparazzi law has good intentions, it is pretty safe to assume that it won’t do much to interfere with the routine activities of the paparazzi.

Was It Legal to Record Donald Sterling’s Conversation?

Donald Sterling, (former) owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has become famous for the recent recording of his racist comments. Although Sterling already got what he had coming (the NBA banned him for life), it is interesting to consider how California’s wiretapping laws might apply to this case.

Donald SterlingCalifornia’s wiretapping law is a “two-party consent” law. California makes it a crime to record or eavesdrop on any confidential communication, including a private conversation or telephone call, without the consent of all parties to the conversation. See Cal. Penal Code § 632. The statute applies to “confidential communications” — i.e., conversations in which one of the parties has an objectively reasonable expectation that no one is listening in or overhearing the conversation. See Flanagan v. Flanagan, 41 P.3d 575, 576-77, 578-82 (Cal. 2002). A California appellate court has ruled that this statute applies to the use of hidden video cameras to record conversations.

If Donald Sterling made this conversation in front of a crowd knowing that other people could hear him, this law would not apply. However, he made this conversation in a private, confidential setting with his girlfriend. As a result, the conversation would likely not be admissible in court.

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3-Foot Safety Zone for Bicyclists: Now the Law in California

As of September 16, 2014, bicyclists will have a new safety zone of three feet. This means that drivers of motor vehicles that overtake and pass bicycles riding in the same direction, must remain at a distance of a minimum of three feet from the bicycle or bicyclist. Specifically, the law states that the distance is the length between “any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.” If the motorist cannot adhere to this rule because of traffic or conditions on the road, then the motorist is required to reduce his or her rate of speed to one that is reasonable, and can pass only when there is no danger to the bicyclist’s safety.

3 feet bike lawThe law is applicable to highway driving, but can also be applied to streets because, according to the California Vehicle Code, the definition of a highway includes streets and “a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel.” (Cal. Vehicle Code §360) The new law is called the Three Feet for Safety Act, and any driver who violates the law will be fined $35, and if a crash occurs, the driver will be fined $220. The new law is codified as Cal. Vehicle Code §§21750 and 21760.

I am in full agreement with the new law because it will discourage motorists from intentionally driving too close to bicyclists, and from engaging in behavior that constitutes harassment. Although it may be difficult to determine a length of three feet, the specificity of the distance is preferable to the statement, “driving at a safe distance.” What is considered “safe” to one person may not be “safe” to another. Furthermore, three feet may well be an insufficient distance for some bicyclists. Nevertheless, the law will offer some protection for bicyclists, and deter motorists from engaging in unsafe passing.

Hopefully, more states will enact a similar law that will help to enforce safe driving habits among motorists, and discourage them from sideswiping bicyclists. Currently, 32 states, including Washington, D.C., have such laws in place; 22 of those states specify a certain distance in order to pass safely. The majority of states require a three-foot safety zone while Pennsylvania mandates a distance of four feet.

As a result of the new law, there will likely be fewer collisions between motorists and bicyclists, and thus, motorists will be more inclined to share the road with bicyclists.

Road Diets: A Legal Review

Over the past decade, a popular and controversial trend has gained momentum in progressive cities seeking to promote local bicycle and pedestrian transportation, even at the cost of slowing down the automobile. If you’ve seen new bicycle lanes popping up on your roads, then your neighborhood has already begun to embrace the road diet.

road diet bike laneWhat Is a “Road Diet”?

Road diet is a term coined to describe the elimination of vehicle lanes on a street in order to make room for bike lanes and/or increase sidewalk space. For example, a four-lane street with two lanes of traffic in each direction may be reduced to a three-lane road with marked bicycle lanes on each side and wider sidewalks.

Proponents of Road Diets

There are many road diet proponents who welcome the step away from automobile use in favor of bicycle and foot transportation. Advocates in favor say:

  • Road diets can help build communities by getting people out of their cars and interacting with the neighborhood on-foot.
  • They promote health and exercise.
  • They protect the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians and reduce auto-accidents.
  • They help the environment by reducing auto-use.
  • Merchants may enjoy more business from increased pedestrian traffic.
  • Property values may increase from neighborhood improvement.

Opponents of Road Diets

Still, many oppose this new trend in land development – especially traditional motorists concerned with getting from point A to point B. Often, these road diets occur in high traffic downtown areas and many fear that reduced lanes will result in road gridlock. Further, some studies have indicated that road diets may not in fact do much to help local economics as proponents suggest.

Legal Issues

When a city introduces a plan for a lane-reduction, several legal issues may arise.

1. City Plans

First, although cities have broad freedom to act for the general welfare of the community, one can look to the city plan to find authority that may promote or restrict a city’s road diet plan. For example, if a city states in their plan that one of their policies is to reduce traffic congestion, a road-diet could potentially conflict with that policy.

However, the city plan may also have policies promoting public safety, environment protection, and downtown growth, which could be advanced by a road diet.

2. Environmental Impacts

Some states require that cities complete environmental impact investigations prior to engaging in any projects that may affect the environment. For example, in California, there have been many instances of citizens using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to slow down city road diet plans and require the city first undergo required environmental analysis.

However, in California, a new 2013 law now exempts bike lanes from CEQA analysis, making it easier for cities to enact road diets and add bike lanes. Still, more extensive road diets that involve new sidewalk additions may still require traditional CEQA analysis.

3. Traffic and Safety Analysis & Public Hearings

Prior to enacting any road diet plans, cities should (and may be required to) conduct a public hearing and undergo investigation and analysis of the traffic and safety impacts associated with the proposed plan. Getting input from neighborhood citizens is important step in fact gathering and assessing community attitude toward the project.

Further, depending on the traffic situation, a road diet may not be appropriate in some areas. Some studies have found that streets that carry more than 20,000 cars a day are more likely to experience traffic gridlock issues from lane reductions. Thus, before undergoing any road diet plans, cities should investigate a number of issues including:

  • Level of traffic
  • Parking issues
  • Affects on nearby streets
  • Availability of alternate routes for cars
  • Costs of the project and revenue resources

The Future of Road Diets
While the road diet trend likely isn’t going away anytime soon, public trains and digital commutes may help ease the burden off daily transportation in the future. Further, often road diets don’t lead to gridlock and still allow for normal traffic flow. In the instances when road diets fail, cities have been known to quickly re-paint the roads back to normal. In the mean time, if you’re not enjoying biking around your neighborhood already, now might be a good opportunity to embrace the road diet.

Is Snake Handling for Religion a Crime?

Religion as a Defense to Possession of Venomous Snakes
Religion is not a defense if you are fired for drug use at work. However, it may be a defense if you are handling rattlesnakes as a means of proving your faith in God. Last November, Tennessee officials raided the Tabernacle Church of God and confiscated over 53 snakes, including rattlesnakes and copperheads. The snakes were brought to Knoxville Zoo for treatment, but more than half of them died.

snake handling salvation religionThe state also charged Rev. Andrew Hamblin with possession of venomous snakes, a misdemeanor in Tennessee if handling snakes would endanger the life of a person. The possession law was passed in 1947 after five people died due to rattlesnake handling. Although the possession of a single snake carried less than a year in jail, Hamblin faced a much lengthier sentence since he was charged with 53 counts of possession – one for each snake seized by the state.

Hamblin’s church quickly rallied to his support, making his case on Facebook and local media. The snake handlers don’t allow children near the snakes and visitors are advised to stay back. Provoking the snakes is forbidden. In essence, the Tabernacle Church of God argued that that they were not endangering the life of a person through snake handling (with the exception, of course, of Rev. Hamblin).

At the grand jury trial, however, Hamblin chose different lines of defense. First, Revered Hamblin claimed the snakes belonged to the church, so he couldn’t be personally charged with possession. Second, the First Amendment protected his right to free exercise of religion, so he was exempt from the law. The jury nullified the possession law and found the revered not guilty.

Are Religions Above the Law?
The Constitution has two contradictory clauses on religion. The free exercise clause prevents the government from prosecuting citizens for having a religious belief. The other clause, the establishment clause, prevents the government from establishing a religion.

This case is an excellent example of how difficult it is to balance those two values together. The government cannot prosecute the Tabernacle Church of God for believing that safe handling of snakes is proof that God is watching over them. On the other hand, if the government allows Revered Hamblin to walk away but punishes other people for breaking the same law, the government would be favoring a church over others. If the establishment clause means anything, it must mean that the state cannot play favorites.

One way to resolve this issue, at least in future cases, would be for the Tennessee legislature to add a religious exemption to the current possession law. It seems odd to codify a church’s religious belief when the establishment clause is in effect.

Many juries will find Christians not guilty through jury nullification, regardless of what the law actually states. However, perhaps the jurors in this case were sympathetic simply because they were all fans of Snake Salvation, the reality TV show Revered Hamblin starred in.