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Judge upholds Indiana law giving police a 25-foot buffer that bystanders can't cross

The side of a police car, with a blue and black stripe running horizontally down the center. On the line are the words "Dial 911" and "Police."
FILE PHOTO: Justin Hicks
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IPB News
A 2023 Indiana law criminalizes bystanders who get within 25 feet of on-duty police after being told to stop.

An Indiana law that gives on-duty police a 25-foot buffer that bystanders cannot cross does not violate the U.S. Constitution — that’s according to a federal judge’s ruling Friday.

The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit last year challenging the law on behalf of Donald Nicodemus. Nicodemus runs a YouTube channel called “Freedom 2 Film,” on which he posts videos of what he calls “newsworthy activities” in and around South Bend, where he lives.

The ACLU argued the 2023 law, HEA 1186, violated the First Amendment by giving police “unchecked authority” to stop people from getting close enough to observe their actions, even if those people aren’t interfering with law enforcement.

But Judge Damon Leichty said police have a right to do their duties unimpeded. And any effect the buffer law has on the public’s right to record on-duty police is “incidental,” Leichty said, and not unconstitutional.

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Leichty did acknowledge that individual police officers could enforce the law in an unconstitutional way, but said that wasn’t true in this case.

There is a second lawsuit challenging the buffer law, brought by Indianapolis-area media organizations.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.