Freedom of Speech

Judge Rejects Eavesdropping Charges for Recording Police

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Michael Allison, an Illinois man who faced a potential sentence of 75 years in prison for recording police officers and attempting to tape his own trial, caught a break last week when a state judge declared the charges unconstitutional. "A statute intended to prevent unwarranted intrusions into a citizen's privacy cannot be used as a shield for public officials who cannot assert a comparable right of privacy in their public duties," wrote Circuit Court Judge David Frankland. "Such action impedes the free flow of information concerning public officials and violates the First Amendment right to gather such information."

Allison, who figures prominently in Radley Balko's January cover story about "The War on Cameras," recorded his interactions with police officers during a long-running dispute over cars he was working on at his home in Bridgeport and his mother's home in Robinson. When he was cited for violating Robinson's "eyesore" ordinance, he brought a tape recorder to his trial because he had been informed that there would be no official transcript of the proceedings. The judge accused Allison of violating her privacy, thereby committing a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the state's eavesdropping law; she threw in four more charges after discovering that he had recorded his police encounters as well.

Judge Frankland ruled that Allison had a First Amendment right to record the police officers and court employees. And while a ban on recording devices in the courtroom might be justified, he said, the eavesdropping charge was inappropriate. As applied in this case, Frankland said, the eavesdropping law "includes conduct that is unrelated to the statute's purpose and is not rationally related to the evil the legislation sought to prohibit. For example, a defendant recording his case in a courtroom has nothing to do with an intrusion into a citizen's privacy but with distraction."

A few days before Frankland's ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit heard a First Amendment challenge to the eavesdropping statute, one of the country's strictest. Last month a Chicago jury acquitted a woman who was charged with eavesdropping after she recorded a conversation with internal affairs officers to document that they were encouraging her to drop a sexual harassment complaint. Also last month, in a case involving a Boston man charged with eavesdropping for capturing an arrest on his cell phone, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit said such recording is a "basic and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment." Yesterday I noted a California case where exercising that right led to a California man's acquittal.

The 1st Circuit's decision is here (PDF). Reason.tv covered camera-shy cops (without triggering any felony charges) in May:

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33 responses to “Judge Rejects Eavesdropping Charges for Recording Police

  1. The judge accused Allison of violating her privacy, thereby committing a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the state’s eavesdropping law

    Who is this judge? Want to know for when she comes up for re-election.

    1. Sorry, she’s appointed, not elected.

      1. Who is this judge? Want to know for when she comes up for re-election picketing.

        1. picketing? — this is 1789 France – there are better ways to deal with her.

          http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new…..l-hit.html

      2. Then vote out the elected official that appointed the Judge in the first place.

    2. Yeah and in what universe does a criminal defendant not have the right to record court proceedings in their case? How else are they going to preserve what happened for appeal or any other post-conviction remedy? What a fucking kangaroo court.

      1. Forget it, Jake. It’s Illinois.

  2. Sometimes ya get lucky.

    1. well, another way to look at it, is that thank god we have some judges that can judge. I know, glass half full/empty, but I guess I try to hang onto these types of events as proof that there may be hope.

  3. Hell yes. Always refreshing to hear some sanity from a judge.

    1. Equally encouraging is a jury that refuses to rubberstamp some bullshit eavesdropping charge.

  4. Of course they don’t want to be vidoed or recorded – you’d be likely catch them in the act of shooting a dog or smashing a homeless guy’s head on a curb.

  5. Well, at least the defendants got to spend a lot of money defending their constitutional rights. I would like to see Loser Pays and would see it extended to include police, prosecutors and judges. No sovereign immunity. There needs to be real and immediate personal consequences.

    1. Oh don’t worry. There’s always that chance of a civil suit, so we taxpayers can take care of the bill.

  6. So the losers pay, just not the losers you meant.

  7. Check the 3rd paragraph. The judge’s last name is Frankland, not Franklin.

  8. help me, legal eagles. Why do I have a FIRST AMENDMENT right to record someone. This case seems almost like a 4th or 5th amendment right. The act of recording isn’t a free speech issue, or assembly or religion or petition issue. Frankly, it seems like a 9th amendment thing, as they didn’t have iphones in 1787.

    1. Presumably because it would burden journalism, which people often confuse with the “press” referenced in the first amendment.

      1. actually, the press is not referring to professional journalists, but to anybody who reports on what is happening. that’s essentially been the gist of case law, and it’s what glik references as well iirc

        in other words, you are correct, basically.

        you cannot have a free press, if people cannot record events that are going on around them- and certainly when you are talking about public stuff – like a trial, or cops interacting with people (and vice versa) , these are not (generally) private matters.

        sure, they didn’t have iphones or computers or … in the time they wrote the constitution. but the concept still applies to new technology

        there are (arguably) good reasons why a person engaged in a “private” conversation with another person cannot surreptitiously record.

        those same reasons do not apply, and are trumped by free speech considerations, when we are talking stuff clearly in view/hearing of the general public, or involving cop/person interactions

  9. awesome. the tide is turning!

  10. also note this occurred in a liberal la-la land, one that also severely restricts the 2nd amendment. not at all shocking that the liberal strongholds tend to have the more injurious laws towards civil rights ime

    1. Oh really? Go take a look at the laws in Texas, as “south” as you can get in America. They say they are for families. They have laws vehemently against families. They say they are for guns, but clearly thats only if your white. They say they are for free speech, but thats only if the police agree with you. They say they are for the individual, but thats only if you go to church, dress, walk, talk, and think like a southerner.

      Take a hike mike, because liberal = conservative, conservative = liberal, republican = democrat, democrat = republic.

      It’s an artificial distinction, a dialectic with the mission to “divide and conquer” the American body politic.

      But keep arguing and dividing people, your only contributing to the collapse of America. Meanwhile *real* Americans will continue to work hard on real solutions to the political problem here in the Disunited
      States of America.

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  12. Astonishing that a judge engaged in public work believes that she has a right to privacy while doing so.

  13. The trial judge should be removed from the bench.

    It’s astonishing that any person working within the justice system believes s/he can operate in a shroud of secrecy … in America of all places.

  14. Why is the female judge still on the bench???

    She should be removed… head first or feet first.

    It’s 1789 France and the 3rd estate is roaring…. give us their heads!

  15. “caught a break”?? Writer is clueless on con. Law.

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  17. America to funny “land of the free” just a joke!

  18. Abuse of police power ought to be a felony on the same level as rape or attempted murder.

  19. The illinoiscorruption.net 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.

    Video: http://www.illinoiscorruption……lease.html
    Press Release: http://www.illinoiscorruption……lease.html

    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.

  20. also note this occurred in a liberal la-la land, one that also severely restricts the 2nd amendment. not at all shocking that

  21. Yeah and in what universe does a criminal defendant not have the right to record court proceedings in their case? How else are they going to preserve what happened for appeal or any other post-conviction remedy? What a fucking kangaroo court.
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