Illinois Judge Declares State Eavesdropping Law Unconstitutional

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 It is simply astonishing that state legislators have not repealed this law or greatly modified it.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

14 thoughts on “Illinois Judge Declares State Eavesdropping Law Unconstitutional”

  1. The has issued an informational video and a press release, to help the media and the general public in the upcoming oral argument at the Illinois Supreme Court hearing in Annabel Melongo’s eavesdropping case. The hearing is scheduled for January 14th, 2014, at the 18th floor of the Michael A. Bilandic Building, 160 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago at 9.30 am.

    Press Release:

    Please support this cause. The Illinois Eavesdropping law at its very core creates a two-class legal system wherein the conversations of the powerful and well-connected are protected to the detriment of the less powerful. The upcoming oral argument presents a unique opportunity for the common citizen to re-establish that legal balance that will unequivocally establish a right to record public officials in their public duties.

    Therefore, please contribute to this all-important hearing by either attending it, writing about it, spreading the word or just forwarding the below video and press release to anybody who might be of any help.

  2. Perhaps she should have been wearing a t-shirt that said, “this conversation may be recorded for training purposes”.

  3. Talkin Dog

    I’m from Chicago and my impression is that Occupy was a weak effort here. Don’t know why…..did ’64 kill the impulse?

  4. You would think the entire Illinois bar would rise up as one and demand repeal of this stupid and corruption-protecting law, but alas tribes are as rampant in the legal profession as anywhere else. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez should be ashamed of herself for championing this assault on the citizenry but someone with shame would likely not find herself in this position in the first place. I say bring on the appeal! Let’s see what an appellate court will do with it.

  5. Lotta,
    I prefer arsenic. Slow and painful.
    Oh, is it bad judges, I thought it was judicial rats.
    Using Mike S reasoning, can we considering the source that judges are taken from………..guess what?

  6. Prosecutors and Police maintain a symbiotic relationship based on covering each others backs. As long as prosecution positions exist as political stepping stones we will see this polluting our criminal justice system.

  7. This will prove the undoing of a number of corruption cases in Illinois……

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