Michael Hyde

On October 26, 1998, shortly after 10:30 p.m., Michael Hyde and his friend Daniel Hartesty were driving to a sports bar to play pool when they were pulled over by an Abington, MA police officer. Three more Abington police officers arrived shortly after the stop was initiated. Police claimed that Hyde was pulled over because the white Porsche he was driving had a loud exhaust system and a broken light for its rear license plate.

Hyde, a musician, always carried a tape recorder around with him so that he could keep track of ideas he had for his band. Hyde activated his tape recorder at the beginning of the traffic stop so that he could keep a record of his interaction with the police.

The police ended up detaining Hyde and Hartesty for about 15 to 20 minutes. During the traffic stop, the police ordered both men out of the car. They frisked┬áHartesty and searched Hyde’s car without his consent. The police swore at Hyde, asked him for personal information such as why he was in Abington and how long he had lived at his current address, and accused him of transporting cocaine in his car.

Ultimately, they allowed Hyde and his passenger to leave without issuing a citation.

Hyde felt that he had been harassed and that the police had profiled him because of his long hair and Porsche, so he went to the Abington police headquarters with his tape recording of the traffic stop to make a complaint to internal affairs. When the police found out that Hyde had tape recorded the traffic stop, they arrested him and charged him with felony wiretapping under the Massachusetts wiretapping statute, a law which prohibits the creation of “secret” audio-recordings of others.

A jury convicted Hyde of violating the statute in less than an hour. He was sentenced to six months probation.

Hyde appealed his conviction, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld it. The court ruled that Hyde’s recording was “secret” because he had hidden his tape recorder in his car and therefore was created in violation of the wiretapping statute. The court rejected Hyde’s argument that the law does not apply to police officers because they are public officials.

“The problem here could have been avoided if, at the outset of the traffic stop, [Hyde] had simply informed the police of his intention to tape record the encounter, or even held the tape recorder in plain sight,” wrote the court. “Had he done so, his recording would not have been secret, and so would not have violated” the wiretapping statute.

In her dissent, Justice Margaret Marshall expressed concern that the court’s ruling would “allow police officers to conceal possible misconduct behind a cloak of privacy.”

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