Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Maryland Judge: Videotaping Cops in Traffic Stop is Allowed

Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia at nightThere was some good news recently concerning the civil rights of photographers. It happened in Maryland where a Judge dismissed charges against a photographer who shot a video of police and posted it on YouTube.

The judge stated “Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public. When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.”

Thank goodness someone has some commonsense, understands the idea of “expectation of privacy,” and that a free and open society needs to protect those who scrutinize public officials, to ensure they remain accountable to the public.

Anthony Graber videotaped police in Maryland on the street at a traffic stop meant to catch drivers who committed traffic violations. The police apparently were unaware that Mr. Graber had videotaped the police at the traffic stop.

Upon discovering the footage on YouTube, the police arrested Mr. Graber under Maryland's wiretapping laws and a Maryland law which specifically prohibited videotaping of traffic violations.

After hearing the case, the Judge, Emory Plitt Jr. dismissed the four counts against Mr. Graber. (State v. Graber, No. 12-K-10-647 at 18-19 (Cir. Ct. Harford County Sept. 27, 2010))

Judge Plitt ruled that the Maryland wiretapping laws only prohibit recordings of private conversations. He concluded that since the incident took place on a public road, the conversation between the police, Mr. Graber, or anyone pulled over at the traffic stop was not private. Therefore Judge Plitt concluded Mr. Gaber could not have violated the state's wiretapping laws.

The judge said that the Maryland wiretapping statute requires consent of both parties to record a private conversation, but it also “specifically restricts the interception of an oral communications to words spoken in a private conversation.”

Moreover, in his ruling dismissing the charges against Mr. Graber Judge Plitt said that when he reviewed other cases from more than a dozen other jurisdictions in Maryland he concluded that police officers performing their official duties don't have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Without an “expectation of privacy” conversations between the police and the general public can't be covered under the Maryland wiretapping laws.

The judge dismissed three counts on statutory grounds.

The fourth count against Mr. Gaber had to do with the Maryland law which which requires people to obtain permission from the government before they film such traffic violations as reckless driving.

Judge Plitt found that law unconstitutional under both the Maryland and US Constitutions. He said Maryland may not require a photographer or videographer to seek permission before photographing or videotaping a traffic violation in a public forum.

Please understand this is a single ruling by one judge in one state, but it is nevertheless an important ruling, one that strikes in the heart laws which seek to shield the police from public scrutiny as they perform their official duties.

The ruling is a start, in the right direction, to again permit private citizen photographers, and press photographers to help ensure the government does its job properly and lawfully by allowing the citizenry and the press to examine and observe public officials on the job, and to critically inspect their job performance, something which is essential to free societies.

No comments:

Post a Comment