Public Person, Private Problems; former state Rep. Susan King

Pratt on Texas - copyright Pratt on Texas all rights reservedFormer state Representative Susan King of Abilene has won a round in her case keeping secret recordings made of her via police-worn microphones. The Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeal said she has a right to withhold such audio that was requested by media as public information.

Justice Gisela Triana and Justice Thomas Baker wrote in their joint opinion that when police body microphones record conversations in a “private space,” the recordings cannot be made public without approval from the person recorded. Interestingly the court’s opinion determined the “private space” was not just inside King’s house but also on the front porch.

You may recall that Susan King had announced in the fall of 2015 that she would run for state senate. Almost two weeks after her announcement somehow police were called to her home and an encounter ensued in which police “refused to leave until she agreed to accompany them to a location where her mental health could be evaluated.”

In learning of the opinion from the 3rd Court of Appeals my immediate reaction was that the extension of the “private space” exception to a front porch which is in plain view of public space was likely a step too far. Then I learned that Justice Melissa Goodwin said she agreed with most of the decision but that the porch should not be considered a private space because of no physical barrier between it and the public street. It would be interesting to see what the Supreme Court says should the case go to it.

Most will focus their attention on King and whatever real or imagined events happened that October evening but I’m more interested in our civil liberties and after reflection, I think the court made the right call generally (except for the extension of “private space” to the porch.)

Just because police become involved does not mean a person broke any law and if such is the case, intimate details of their private problems should not become fodder for public consumption.

Comments

  1. Beth Pratt says

    Y private space extends not only to my porch, which is under my roof, and I would argue for my yard unless a crime is committed on the private property, which should require compelling evidence.

    • Pratt on Texas says

      Yes but there is long existing precedent that what is in plain view of the public, in this case from a public road, cannot be considered as private space for certain purposes. For example, if police see illegal drugs or activity from the road happening on your porch, they would not need a warrant to act.

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