Anthony Graber was enjoying his motorcycle ride, maybe a little too much, when he sped past a marked police car at approximately 80 mph. He also scooted past an unmarked state police vehicle driven by Trooper Joseph David Uhler, who finally caught up to Graber’s bike at an off ramp where he’d stopped for the traffic in front of him.
The trooper pulled his police car in front of Graber and hopped out with gun in hand. He ordered the driver off the bike. He gave the command a couple of times before holstering his weapon and identifying himself as a Maryland State Police (MSP) officer. However, the officer’s badge was clearly displayed on his belt. Graber complied. Unfortunately for him, that’s not all he did.
In fact, speeding was the least of Graber’s troubles that day. You see, he’d decided to attach a camera to his helmet and videotape himself while driving rather recklessly on interstate 95, a major east coast highway.
Graber’s helmet-cam. Photography Is Not A Crime image
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with videotaping your own foolishness, but Graber left the film rolling during the traffic stop. Again, there’s nothing illegal about VIDEOtaping anyone in a public place. However, Graber’s recorder also captured the audio during the stop, which in some states is an illegal act. And the Maryland State Police felt that Graber had crossed the line, especially after he posted the video on YouTube.
Wiretapping laws are normally pretty clear. In most areas you simply cannot record a private conversation without the consent of both parties (I’ve indicated the word private and will address why in a moment).
As a result of the audio recording the MSP obtained a search warrant and served it on Graber’s home. The officers seized Graber’s computers and Graber actually spent 26 hours in jail. He’s now awaiting trial for wiretapping charges, a situation that could result in a 16 year prison sentence. All because he recorded his own traffic stop and probably wasn’t aware of the law. No excuse, but…
Graber’s argument will most certainly be that the recording was not of a private conversation. I, too, have my doubts that a police officer’s arrest (a traffic stop is essentially an arrest) of a lawbreaker is a private event. I just can’t see where a police officer has a reasonable expectation of privacy when engaged in questioning, arresting, or even talking to people while on public property, including city, county, and state roadways, sidewalks, open businesses, right of ways and/or easements. etc. That’s what police stations, police cars, and interview rooms are for.
So, I can’t see the wiretap charge sticking. It’s stretching the law to the edge of its limit. But we’ll see how it goes, and it should be interesting. The outcome could also be a standard-setter.
What do you think? Good arrest, or a violation of Graber’s constitutional rights?