Friday, October 1, 2010

Maryland Judge Says Videotaping Officers During Arrest Does Not Violate Wiretap Laws

"A Harford County Circuit Court judge Monday dismissed wiretapping charges against Anthony Graber, a motorcyclist who was jailed briefly after he taped a Maryland state trooper who stopped him for speeding on I-95 using a camera mounted on his helmet, then posted the video on YouTube.

In April, a few weeks after the traffic stop, Hartford County state's attorney Joseph I. Cassilly charged Graber, a staff sergeant in the Maryland Air National Guard and a computer systems engineer, with violating the state's wiretapping law. That law dates back to the 1970s and was originally intended to protect citizens from government intrusions into their privacy. If convicted on all charges, Graber faced up to 16 years in prison.

One of the key legal questions facing Judge Emory A. Pitt Jr., was whether police performing their duties have an expectation of privacy. Pitt ruled that police have no expectation of privacy in their public, on-the-job communications"

The Washington Post - Charges dropped in cyclist, trooper taping

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"As sworn officers of the law, police have every right to expect respectful compliance with their orders in the discharge of their official duties. What they have no right to expect is that their interactions with the public in that capacity should remain hidden from public view in public places.

That principle was reaffirmed Monday when Harford County Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. ruled that police and prosecutors were wrong to charge a man for taping his own traffic stop and posting it on the Internet. In throwing out the charge, Judge Plitt reminded everyone that police officers are first of all public officials, and as such they have no expectation of privacy when performing their official duties."

The Baltimore Sun (Editorial) - Caught on tape; Our view: There can be no expectation of privacy for police acting in their official capacity

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" These conflicts are becoming more frequent as access to technology increases, said David Rocah, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland who represented Graber. Although other states have considered the issue, Monday's ruling marks the first time a Maryland court has addressed citizens' ability to videotape police interaction -- a measure that Rocah said will lead to more police accountability.

“I think if police know that they are subject to being taped and that there’s nothing they can do about it, that can’t help but make them hopefully think twice about how they behave,” Rocah said.

However, Harford County State Attorney Joseph Cassilly views the repercussions of the judge’s decision differently.

“If you’re on a public street, then you have no reasonable expectation of privacy and anyone can use any sort of electronic device to intercept your conversation,” Cassilly said. “This decision basically says you have no protection.”

Cassilly said he is considering an appeal."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - Judge overturns indictment for videotaping police

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I'm a big supporter of the Police. No - really. I understand it may not be fashionable. I say we put our officers under demands that cannot be justified - too many countervailing pressures and directives (just like our military is put in untenable situations by leaders who don't give a shit about the lives they are destroying). I don't believe we resource our police properly. By that I mean that we put demands on them to keep control in a "war zone" (in many areas of cities officers only interaction with citizens is when something very bad happens) - expect them to be both ready to bust heads to protect our lives, but and the same time be gentle and baby kissing social workers. We don't do enough to provide respite. It is just like not giving soldiers enough time out of real war zones to "decompress". I know a lot of police officers - where I live and elsewhere - and they are just expected to "be tough" in the face of highly traumatic incidents. You and I don't have to keep it together every day being called out to grisly scenes of death, abuse, and violence. The way we treat our police is almost guaranteed to make them snap, as their every day work is a recipe for complex post traumatic stress disorder.

The above situation described in the news articles, however, exhibits one more time what happens to people who are in power without scrutiny, transparency, and constraints. They become arbitrary and arrogant. If we as a society give police officers the right to take away or curtail our liberty - often with only their judgement call as the deciding factor - then we also have the parallel right to scrutinise their judgment.

As the Baltimore Sun editorial so cogently states:

"As sworn officers of the law, police have every right to expect respectful compliance with their orders in the discharge of their official duties. What they have no right to expect is that their interactions with the public in that capacity should remain hidden from public view in public places."

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