AB 2655 – Prohibits “First Responders” From Photographing A Deceased Person At The Scene Of An Accident Or Crime Except For Official Purposes

CATEGORY: Client Update for Public Agencies, Fire Watch, Law Enforcement Briefing Room, Public Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education, Public Employers, Public Safety
DATE: Oct 26, 2020

AB 2655 makes it a criminal misdemeanor for a first responder who responds to the scene of an accident or crime to take photographs of a deceased person by any means, including either a personal electronic device or one belonging to the employing agency, except if the picture is taken for an official law enforcement purpose or to advance a genuine public interest. The bill makes this offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

AB 2655 was drafted in response to reports that some first responders who responded to the death of former NBA player Kobe Bryant inappropriately circulated images of the scene for personal reasons.  The bill was therefore enacted to protect the privacy of mourning families, the dignity of the deceased, and the public trust in first responders.

For purposes of this new law, a “first responder” is defined as a state or local peace officer, firefighter, paramedic, emergency medical technician, rescue service personnel, emergency manager, coroner, or employee of a coroner. The bill also requires that any agency that employs first responders must notify its employees of this prohibition on January 1, 2021.

To assist law enforcement agencies in reviewing a first responder’s personal electronic device as part of a criminal investigation of this new law, AB 2655 also allows law enforcement to get a search warrant to seize property or items that contain evidence that a violation of this prohibition has occurred. However, the ability to obtain such a search warrant is limited only to a criminal investigation under this law and does not allow law enforcement to search for or seize evidence for only departmental policy violations.

In preparation for the implementation of AB 2655, law enforcement agencies need to notify their first responders of this new prohibition.

(AB 2655 adds Section 647.9 to and amends Section 1524 of the Penal Code.)