September 28, 2010

A VICTORY IN THE WAR AGAINST PHOTOGRAPHY: Charges dismissed against Md. man who taped traffic stop.

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. . . . Judge Emory A. Pitt 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.

Pitt 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?”).”

Indeed. This is obviously correct, and it is an utter disgrace that Harford County state’s attorney Joseph I. Cassilly brought charges anyway.

UPDATE: Or maybe not. Reader Carl Dahlman writes:

In a TV interview last summer, Cassilly said that he believes that the police have no right to privacy when stopping people on the highway. He stated that he brought the suit in order to get legal clarification of the basic issue. If he lost, he’d be happy; if he won, the State legislature would have to act.

Seems to me Cassilly got the matter settled without needing statutory remedy. Bully for him. Maybe you should not be so hard on him.

Also, kudos to the State AG who issued an opinion last summer that troopers have no right to privacy on the highway. I’m sure that influenced the judge.

Hmm.

ANOTHER UPDATE: On the other hand, reader Steven Wells writes:

I read with some interest the comments of your reader Carl Dahlman regarding the dismissal of charges against the Maryland man who taped a traffic stop. Mr. Dahlman suggests that it is a good thing the prosecutor brought charges because this clarified matters without getting a statutory remedy. I disagree.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I think this type of prosecution is a disgrace, as you wrote in your initial post. Criminal charges endanger our most fundamental rights and liberties. For a prosecutor to file charges simply to clarify a vague statute is greatly troublesome. If a statute is vague, then prosecutors should not be filing charges at all. The defendant in this case had to hire an attorney (although I understand from some accounts he may have had pro bono counsel, this is still a real issue), have his name broadcast throughout national media, go through the process of obtaining bail (which is a restriction on liberty), and face the very real possibility of being a convicted felon. All of this when the prosecution admits that there was a distinct possibility that there was no basis for a charge?

There is no need for a statutory remedy in this circumstance. Prosecutors have a great deal of discretion in how they do their jobs and that discretion is all the ‘remedy’ this situation needs. I do not know Maryland’s ethical code, but under Rule 3.8 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, prosecutors should not prosecute a case if they know the charges are not supported by probable cause. It seems to me that if the prosecutor admits that the statute is vague, there is a very real argument that the prosector should know these charges are not supported by probable cause.

Just some food for thought.

Indeed.

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