We have been following the disturbing trend of arrests of citizens videotaping police in public — the subject of this prior column. Illinois has been featured prominently in these stories due to its strict law on eavesdropping. Now Cook County Criminal Courts Judge Stanley Sacks ruled that the law unconstitutional due to its vague language, which sweeps “wholly innocent conduct” within its scope.
Artist Christopher Drew was arrested after he taped conversations with police after his arrest for selling art on a Loop street without a permit.
Sacks noted that under the law even a parent recording her child’s soccer game and inadvertently capturing a conversation between two bystanders: “Although it is extremely unlikely that this doting parent would be charged with a felony offense, the fact remains that she could, thusly punishing innocent conduct.”
Despite national criticism of arrests in Illinois of citizens for recording police, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has persisted in prosecuting people under the law and arguing for sweeping authority of the state to criminalize such conduct. She is now considering an appeal. We are also following an appeal on the federal level — particularly after very disturbing comments made by Judge Richard Posner during oral argument in that case.
Illinois law imposes up to 15 years in prison if a police officer or court official is recorded without his or her knowledge. It is simply astonishing that state legislators have not repealed this law or greatly modified it. Last year we discussed the case of a woman who was charged after taping an officer allegedly trying to convince her not to file a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer. Prosecutors took that appalling case to a jury, which acquitted her.
This law has an obvious impact on citizens wanting to prove corruption or abuse by officials — a problematic benefit in a state that has a long history of corruption. This is my home state and I find it terribly embarrassing to see Illinois leading the fight against citizens in this area. The Illinois bar has always distinguished itself in its progressive efforts to reform laws and protect the rights of citizens. Yet, Alvarez and other prosecutors have been unabashed in their efforts in deterring this type of recording, even of police abuse.
Source: Chicago Tribune