27 September 2010

Wiretapping charges dismissed in Anthony Graber case

UPDATE 9/28: The ACLU of Maryland has the full text of Judge Plitt's decision here; I also posted it on my blog here.

From the Washington Post:
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. Graber used a camera mounted on his helmet, then posted the video on YouTube.
In April, a few weeks after the traffic stop, Harford 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.
Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. had to decide whether police performing their duties have an expectation of privacy in public space. Pitt ruled that police can have no such expectation in their public, on-the-job communications.
Plitt wrote: "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. 'Sed quis custodiet ipsos cutodes' ("Who watches the watchmen?”)."
Graber was also charged with possessing a “device primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of oral communications" -- referring to the video camera on his helmet. The judge disagreed with the prosecutor that the helmet cam was illegal, and concluded the state's argument would render illegal “almost every cell phone, Blackberry, and every similar device, not to mention dictation equipment and other types of recording devices."
Plitt's decision is the first ruling in Maryland to address the legality of citizens taping police in the course of their duties. Because it is a circuit court ruling, it is not binding on other judges. However, unless it is appealed, said Graber's attorney, David Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland, "it is likely to be the last word" on the matter and to be regarded as precedent by police.
No word yet on whether the state's attorney will try to appeal the decision. Graber still faces traffic charges stemming from the incident.
The Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Examiner and others all had articles about the case, but unfortunately none linked to the actual decision.  C'mon journalists, you're better than that.  I'm working on finding the text of the decision.

Here is the original video:
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