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Second judge rules eavesdropping law unconstitutional

Friday, Mar 2, 2012

* A Cook County judge ruled the state’s eavesdropping law is unconstitutional today. It’s just a lower court judge, but that makes two judges in six months who’ve ruled the same way. Another woman charged with a felony was recently acquitted. From the Tribune

The law makes it a felony offense to make audio recordings of police officers without their consent even when they’re performing their public duties.

Judge Stanley Sacks, who is assigned to the Criminal Courts Building, found the eavesdropping law unconstitutional because it potentially criminalizes “wholly innocent conduct.”

Somebody once tape recorded a private conversation he had with me. I was furious, pointed to the felony penalties and the tape was quickly destroyed. Recording completely private conversations is one thing. Recording a police officer in a public setting engaged in a public duty seems legit to me. The state already prohibits people from interfering with the police. There are reasonable limits on what can and can’t be done, but slapping somebody with a felony is extreme beyond belief.

* A little background on the defendant Chris Drew

Chris originally set out to challenge a 1994 Chicago Ordinance which equates artists as non-speech peddlers. As Chris puts it, “Art is Speech” which is not the same as selling socks or watches. Prior to this ordinance, artists could be found selling their art in downtown. The legendary Lee Godie, a naïve artist, would sell drawing and painting in front of the Art Institute in the 80s, as other artists would be seen around downtown as well. Not so today.

For a period of about a year, I documented Chris on his journey, as he and UM-CAC artists distributed art patches in downtown Chicago. Sometimes for free, sometimes for donation, and also selling them for $1.

On Dec. 2, 2009, Chris was selling art patches, for $1, as part of the FREE SAM, (Free Speech Artists Movement) He was arrested for peddling without a license, and peddling in a prohibited district. But the shocker came when at the police station, an officer found a small personal tape recorder in his red cape. The charge of Class 1 Felony Eavesdropping was added, with a bond of $20,000. At his first court appearance the misdemeanor charges of selling art in public without a peddlers license and in an area prohibited by the peddlers license were dropped. To the surprise of many, including Chris, there is a law in Illinois which appears to cover a person audio recording their own arrest. Others have been charged under this law as well.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


9 Comments
  1. - Newsclown - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 12:50 pm:

    Good; the sooner this thing is fixed, the better. It should never have been allowed in the first place. Thanks to government security policy we now live in the panopticon; the law enforcement watches should be just as watchable as we are. Only good can come from reforming this law.


  2. - Just Observing - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 12:53 pm:

    Great ruling. This is an issue that needs to be resolved in the courts and/or legislature — for too long police have pushed for these laws to prevent citizens from filming bad or corrupt police behavior caught on tape. State Rep. Elaine Nekritz has proposed legislation to partially address this.


  3. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 2:37 pm:

    This is one issue that should make any voter question a politician who says s/he’s with the Fraternal Order of Police 100% of the time.


  4. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 2:49 pm:

    And how long did it take to fix this stupid law?

    What a waste of time and money


  5. - Just Observing - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 2:54 pm:

    === And how long did it take to fix this stupid law? ===

    This law is not fixed — as Rich points out this is only a lower court ruling — we still need a substantive legislative fix.


  6. - mark walker - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 3:05 pm:

    State Rep Nekritz has already brought the bill to fix it. It ought to be passed and signed.


  7. - reformer - Friday, Mar 2, 12 @ 3:18 pm:

    It’s an embarrassment that the General Assembly waits for judges to force their hand, when the injustice of this felony has been visible for years.

    Previous attempts to revise this law have been blocked by The Speaker.


  8. - amorro - Sunday, Mar 4, 12 @ 7:00 pm:

    The Illinois Eavesdropping’s battle isn’t over yet. On March 15th, 2012, Melongo will argue her motion to dismiss. She recorded Pamela Taylor, a Cook County Court Manager, for an alleged tampered court transcript. She’s challenging this controversial law on First and Fourteenth Amendments grounds.
    Melongo’s motion : http://tinyurl.com/6nqv2se
    State’s response: http://tinyurl.com/73fwecf


  9. - Anonymous - Monday, Mar 5, 12 @ 5:30 pm:

    In some instances a Citizen’s only chance against corrupt and abusive Police—to prove what actually happened during a police encounter—is to record/film the Cops. Almost every week there are published news accounts of e.g. police taking bribes, aiding & smuggling illegal drugs, robbing drug-dealers, planting evidence and committing perjury. Police corruption has become a greater threat to Americans since Congress passed in December 2011 (NDAA) The National Defense Authorization ACT of 2012. Police that falsify reports and give perjured testimony can cause innocent Citizens to be swept off the street and indefinitely incarcerated for suspected of supporting or being a terrorist, combatant or belligerent. Under (NDAA) Government doesn’t need probable cause or corroborating evidence to Indefinitely Detain Americans without charges, without right to an attorney, trial or Habeas Corpus. A recording or film of police may be a Citizen’s only hope-provided police don’t destroy it…


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