From: Greegor on
On Aug 3, 5:35 pm, Dave Head <rally...(a)> wrote:
> Ur way late with this, and it's already in the bag:,0,1126908.story

Recording police likely OK, attorney general says

Letter comes in response to recent charges brought against Marylanders
who recorded police interactions

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun 9:11 p.m. EDT, July 30, 2010

Marylanders appear to have the right to record interactions with
police officers with devices such as video cameras and mobile phones,
according to an opinion by the state attorney general's office. The
advisory letter was issued as several people face or have been
threatened with criminal charges for taping police.

It's unlikely that most interactions with police could be considered
private, as some law enforcement agencies have interpreted the state's
wiretapping act, wrote Assistant Attorney General Robert McDonald. The
conclusion is based on prior rulings and opinions of courts in other

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is representing a
motorcyclist facing criminal charges in Harford County, one of at
least two people who are being prosecuted there for recording police.
State police raided the home of Anthony Graber in April after he
posted a video of a traffic stop that he recorded with a helmet-
mounted camera.

A 27-year-old woman also was charged after recording police in St.
Mary's County; and a video made during an arrest at the Preakness and
posted on YouTube includes a Baltimore officer who is overheard
telling someone it is illegal to record police. The top prosecutor in
St. Mary's County has since dropped the charge against the woman and
joined the sheriff in acknowledging that people have a right to record
police officers in public, according to news reports.

The advisory letter from the attorney general's office, dated July 7,
was requested by Democratic and Republican state lawmakers, who asked
if police were twisting the law and whether a legislative remedy was
necessary. The opinion does not carry the weight of law but is meant
to guide judges and state agencies.

The opinion "makes the point that there is no reasonable expectation
of privacy when a police officer arrests a citizen, which makes it
perfectly legal for a citizen to videotape or have an oral record of
the arrest," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat. "We
want to know whether we have to change the law, and the answer seems
to be no, we do not."

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, a Republican, who
has brought the charges against the motorcyclist, said he thinks the
wiretapping statute "criminalizes all sorts of conduct that government
has no business regulating."

But he says that until the legislature makes long overdue changes to
the law, his interpretation is literal and correct. For years,
compelling audiotapes of criminal behavior have been routinely thrown
out in court after defense attorneys cited the statute. The law can't
be applied differently when police say they've been recorded without
their consent, he said.

"I'm a civil libertarian kind of guy — yes, I'm in law enforcement,
but give me fewer laws to enforce," Cassilly said. "I'm enforcing the
law the way I think the law is written, and I'm happy that lots of
people think the law needs to change. Great. I've been trying to make
this point for 30 years."

David Rocah, a staff attorney with the Maryland ACLU, argues that a
police officer stopping someone as part of his official duties has no
expectation of privacy. Telling citizens they can't record, he said,
improperly intimidates and chills attempts by people to hold law
enforcement accountable.

Rocah said Cassilly was "abusing the law in a fashion and prosecuting
Mr. Graber, who has committed no crime, to try to make a political
point to get the legislature to change the law," which Rocah called

The state's wiretapping law was enacted in 1973, and since then the
number of video and audio recordings made by both law enforcement
agencies and citizens with hand-held and portable recording devices
has exploded.

The Maryland statute is generally focused on matters of eavesdropping
and says individuals may not "willfully intercept" any "oral
communication," defined as "any conversation or words spoken to or by
any person in private conversation." That has raised the question of
what can be considered a private conversation.

"It is possible that a court might find that a particular encounter
between an individual and a police officer involved a 'private
conversation' and thus qualified as an 'oral communication' subject to
the wiretap act," McDonald wrote. "This seems an unlikely conclusion
as to the majority of encounters between police and citizens,
particularly when they occur in a public place and involve the
exercise of police powers."

State supreme courts in Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and
Washington have upheld people's right to record police officers,
though Illinois has since made it illegal to record anyone without
their consent.

Maryland State Police record traffic stops themselves, via dashboard
cameras required by a settlement in a 2003 racial profiling lawsuit.
Rocah noted that should the state police face a lawsuit over the
issue, the attorney general's office as state legal counsel would be
called to defend their position.

"Under those circumstances," he said, the attorney general's letter
"is pretty extraordinary in going as far as it does."

McDonald's letter references a 2000 opinion by then-Attorney General
J. Joseph Curran Jr., who told Montgomery County police that it was
legal for them to mount cameras in their police cars and record video
and audio of traffic stops. Curran wrote that such recordings "could
hardly be characterized as private conversations."

"Any driver pulled over by a uniformed officer in a traffic stop is
acutely aware that his or her statements are being made to a police
officer and, indeed, that they may be repeated as evidence in a
courtroom," Curran wrote.

In the Harford case, Graber had mounted a video camera on his
motorcycle helmet and recorded a plainclothes officer who pulled him
over and drew his gun. The officer asked if he was being recorded, and
the motorcyclist said no.

In St. Mary's County, Yvonne Shaw was arrested June 12 by a sheriff's
deputy for recording an officer with a cell phone camera. The officer
was responding to a noise complaint but seized the woman's phone after
he observed her "holding it in a manner suggesting she was recording
our activity."

"She did admit to recording our encounter on her cell phone," the
corporal wrote in court documents, "for the purpose of trying to show
the police are harassing people."

"I honestly did not know that I was not able to do that," Shaw told
the Southern Maryland News. "He just snatched my phone from me and
locked me up."

Records show the charge was dropped two weeks later by prosecutors,
however. State's Attorney Richard Fritz, a Republican, said the
officer had probable cause for making the arrest but that proving the
case beyond a reasonable doubt in court was unlikely. Fritz could not
be reached for further comment.

A trial date has not been set in Graber's case, according to court