Hot on the heels of the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision that citizens have an absolute constitutional right to record the police in public, we find that a guy in a town in downstate Illinois, about 200 miles south of Chicago, is facing five counts of Class One felony “eavesdropping” for doing just that, with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison per count – i.e., up to 75 years in prison. The Illinois AG has told the judge in a hearing that there is no constitutional right to record the police.
The guy is being represented gratis by an ACLU lawyer, and he has refused a plea deal that would have given him probation on a lesser count. (He refused in part because he would have to give up a separate, but related, lawsuit against the city he lives in.)
I am all in favor of police being able to control the scene, and people (journalists, civilians) not interfering with police activity. But it is absolutely clear that laws such as this, as broadly applied as they tend to be where they are still on the books, are used to intimidate citizens and cover up law enforcement errors and excesses. I hope this thing eventually goes up to the Seventh Circuit and they come down in line with the First Circuit.