September 2nd, 2010

Constitution does not apply in the U.S. territory of Guam 0

By Carlos Miller


The Pacific Island of Guam is listed as a U.S. territory, meaning its people are U.S. citizens, spend American dollars and even consider the American president as its head of state.

However, the U.S. Constitution does not apply there apparently.

According to a story posted on First Amendment Center:

In October 2009, two Guam police officers ordered James L. Adkins out of his car after they noticed he was taking cell-phone pictures of an accident on a public street in Tamuning, Guam, a U.S. territory. The officers stopped Adkins’ car and told him he could not take pictures.

Adkins allegedly responded that “there is nothing wrong with taking pictures.” The officers then ordered him to turn over the phone. After he refused, they handcuffed him and took him to the Hagatna police station where he was booked, fingerprinted and photographed. They took his cell phone and never returned it.

Releasing Adkins after four hours, police gave him a notice to appear in court on two charges: “obstructing governmental function” and “failure to comply.” The first law says a person commits a misdemeanor if he or she “intentionally obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function by force.” The second law says, “It shall be unlawful for the operator of any motor vehicle to refuse to comply with any lawful order … of a peace officer who shall be in uniform and shall exhibit his badge or other sign of authority.”

Adkins filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging 11 different causes of action against the two officers and other defendants. One of those claims was that the officers infringed on his First Amendment rights by prohibiting him from taking pictures on public property.

The judge, a U.S. District Court Judge nonetheless, ruled that citizens do not have a First Amendment right to take photographs on a public highway.

Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood referred to a case last year in which a federal judge ruled that an Oakland Tribune photojournalist did not have the right to stop his car on a public highway and snap photos of an accident.

However, the judge acknowledged that there have been other cases throughout the country where judges have ruled that photographers do have the right to take pictures on public highways.

But those cases were not in the 9th Circuit, she said, which includes the western states as well as Guam. So obviously the Constitution does not stretch from sea to shining sea.


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