Court Holds Driver Guilty
Of Taping Police During Traffic Stop
By Kevin Rothstein
c. 2001 The Patriot Ledger

BOSTON - The state's highest court ruled Friday that a motorist violated the state's wiretapping law when he secretly recorded Abington police during a traffic stop.
But in a sharply worded minority opinion, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall invoked the infamous Rodney King beating, saying the man who videotaped it could have been indicted if that case had happened in Massachusetts.
"The purpose of (the wiretapping law) is not to shield public officials from exposure of their wrongdoings," Marshall wrote in the dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justice Robert Cordy.
The ruling stemmed from Michael J. Hyde's appeal of his 1999 conviction for violating the state's wiretapping law, which prohibits covertly recording conversations.
The former Braintree resident used a hidden tape recorder to record his traffic stop in Abington.
He later produced the audio tape to back his claim that Abington police had been abusive to him, but that recording was used to prosecute him.
Hyde, 33, now lives in Watertown and repairs tractor-trailers. He said he wants to appeal to federal court if he can find a lawyer he can afford.
"This isn't about me right now, it's about where our rights are going," he said. "If I let this drop, this is just going to get worse."
He also thinks the case shows the need for term limits for judges.
Robert Thompson, the prosecutor who argued against Hyde's appeal for the Plymouth County District Attorney's office, said comparisons to King's beating in Los Angeles were "apples and oranges." The King case was videotaped, not recorded on audio, he said.
All Hyde had to do to avoid breaking the law was tell police he was recording them, Thompson said.
"I just don't agree that there is any particular need or any obvious need for secret recordings," he said.
The forcefulness of the dissenting opinion, along with the underlying issues in the case drew the attention of legal experts.
Sarah Wunsch, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, called the ruling a "disturbing opinion" that revealed a conservative bent to the current SJC.
The ACLU filed a brief in support of Hyde's case.
"I think it's a disturbing indicator of this court's view of important rights to be free from police misconduct," she said. "Police officers who engage in their official acts out in a public place have to be scrutinized in a way that private citizens would not be."
David Yas, publisher of Mass Lawyers Weekly and a Sharon resident, said the ruling did not likely reveal any political leanings of the court.
He pointed to the dissenting opinion in which Cordy, a newcomer to the bench thought to be conservative, joined with Marshall, who is considered generally liberal.
Weld or former Gov. Paul Cellucci have appointed all the justices to the bench except Greaney, who wrote for the majority in the 4-2 decision.
Greaney was appointed by former Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Hyde was pulled over as he was driving his Porsche on Route 123 in Abington on Oct. 26, 1998.
Police said they stopped him because his car's muffler was loud and the license plate light was out. Hyde, a rock musician, complained that he had been stopped because of his long hair and leather jacket.
Police later testified that Hyde became angry and belligerent, so much so that they sent him on his way with a verbal warning just to "de-escalate" the situation.
He returned to the Abington police station the next week to request that the officers be reprimanded. To back his claims, he produced an audio recording he had secretly made of the traffic stop.
An internal investigation cleared the Abington officers who had stopped Hyde: Patrolmen Michael Aziz and Richard Gambino and Sgts. Kevin Force and Stephen Marquardt.
But Abington police used the tape to charge Hyde with violating the wiretapping law.
He was convicted in July 1999 after a two-day trial in Brockton District Court and sentenced to six months probation and fined $500.
Hyde argued that his conviction should be overturned because the police officers should not expect to have the same rights to privacy as other citizens.
Abington Police Chief Richard Franey disagreed. "Police officers have rights just like everybody else."
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