A traffic stop, a cell phone, a court ruling

First Amendment rights were preserved when a Goffstown District Court judge dismissed a charge of unlawful wiretapping against a Weare man who used his cell phone’s voicemail to record a traffic stop by a police officer.

Judge Edward Tenney cited a federal First Circuit Court of Appeals order in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe in ruling that William Alleman was within his rights when he recorded the traffic stop and posted it to Porcupine411, an answering service for Libertarian activists.

“The Glik holding makes it perfectly clear that First Amendment protections apply to both audio and video recording,” Judge Tenney ruled. “The fact that Officer [Brandon] Montplaisir may have been unwilling or unhappy being recorded does not make a lawful exercise of the defendant’s First Amendment rights a crime.”

Simon Glik was a Boston attorney who filmed police officers arresting a man on the Boston Common. The federal court found that “a citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public place is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

In Alleman’s case, he was stopped on July 10, 2010, after leaving a gathering in support Palmer’s Tavern owner George Hodgdon who had been arrested for interfering with an assault investigation. Alleman said Montplaisir had followed him from the gathering and, as the officer approached his vehicle, he made the cell phone call to the answering service, established to record the locations of speed traps and sobriety checkpoints, report unusual or improper police activity, and to make distress calls in the event of roadside detention or imminent arrest.

Just as police officers have found it useful to record traffic stops — not because every stop will present difficulties but because, when there is a problem, the recording can prove helpful later — citizens can find it useful to have an audio or video of what transpires. This is true not only in the case of potential police misconduct; there have been several instances where people have posed as police officers in order to gain people’s confidence.

The federal ruling also is broad enough to prevent another decision like the one in Laconia where a citizen was found guilty of recording public officials performing their duties in City Hall. After Glik, officials can no longer say that is criminal.