|Court: The Cameras Are Now Legally On|
|Written by American Police Beat Magazine Online Staff|
Circuit Court Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr.'s ruling helps clarify the state's wiretap law and makes it clear that police officers do not have an expectation of privacy as they perform their duties.
"Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public," Plitt wrote. "When we exercise that power in a public forum, we should not expect our activity to be shielded from public scrutiny."
Plitt threw out four counts of the grand jury indictment against Anthony Graber that centered on the recordings he made with a helmet-mounted camera. Graber then posted the video on YouTube after he was stopped by a trooper in an unmarked car on an Interstate 95 off-ramp last March.
"This is one of the best days in my life that I've ever had," Graber told reporters after the verdict was read. "It's such a huge relief, I can't even explain." The judge left intact only traffic violations that include speeding and reckless and negligent driving.
Plitt cited the videotaped recording of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles and the explosion of "rapid fire information technology" to note that virtually anyone in a public place, whether they are civilians or law enforcement personnel, should expect their actions could be recorded and possibly broadcast into cyberspace.
Graber's encounter "took place on a public highway in full view of the public. Under such circumstances, I cannot, by any stretch, conclude that the troopers had any reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversation with the defendant which society would be prepared to recognize as reasonable," Judge Plitt wrote in his decision.
Both law enforcement and civil libertarians were closely watching the case. Police say that being recorded by the public in the course of their duties makes a hard job harder and could endanger officers.
But civil libertarians point out that the state's wiretap law was written decades before the Internet and cell phone video cameras. The laws were originally designed to prevent people from breaking into phone lines and secretly recording conversations. Plitt "makes it crystal clear that the conduct Anthony engaged in was not and could not be a crime," said David Rocah, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Maryland, which defended Graber in court.
"I think it means that police officers around the state are on notice that it simply is not a crime to tape a police officer or any other public official engaged in the public performance of their duties," Rocah told the Sun in a recent interview.
Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly disagrees entirely. He said the ruling "will make it more difficult for the police to do their jobs."
The trooper had pursued Graber, alleging he was recklessly speeding on the highway and passing cars on one wheel. The trooper issued the 24-year-old Maryland Air National Guard sergeant several traffic citations and let him go. But when Graber posted the video, troopers obtained a warrant, raided Graber's residence and seized his equipment.
If he had been convicted, Graber faced 16 years in prison, the loss of his job as a consultant for a defense contractor and his government security clearance.
In another Youtube video out of Maryland last year, a Baltimore police officer at the Preakness can be heard telling an amateur cameraman to stop recording the arrest of a woman, telling him, "It's illegal to record anybody's voice or anything else in the state of Maryland."