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Judge overturns indictment for videotaping police

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Maryland judge dismissed charges Monday against a motorcyclist arrested for videotaping his traffic stop with two state troopers and…

A Maryland judge dismissed charges Monday against a motorcyclist arrested for videotaping his traffic stop with two state troopers and later posting the video on YouTube.

Anthony Graber, 25, was indicted under Maryland’s wiretap law, which requires the consent of both parties to record in a situation where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Harford County Judge Emory Plitt threw out the indictment on Monday, holding that conversations at a traffic stop are not private, according to court documents.

“In this rapid information technology era in which we live, it is hard to imagine that either an offender or an officer would have any reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to what is said between them in a traffic stop on a public highway," Plitt wrote in his order.

Graber was pulled over on March 25 by two state troopers at an exit ramp on Interstate 95 in Maryland. His video camera, attached to his helmet, shows a plainclothes trooper pulling out a gun and ordering Graber to get off his bike.

Graber denied he was recording when the troopers asked, said Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland Department of State Police.

After Graber posted the video on YouTube, he was arrested and indicted, and police obtained a search warrant to take his computer and other materials on April 15.

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.

Graber is still charged with reckless driving and exceeding 80 mph in a 65-mph speed limit zone, Shipley said.