Chris Drew was arrested in 2009 for selling items on the Chicago streets without a peddler's license, which is a misdemeanor. While he was being arrested, he surreptitiously recorded the conversation between him and the arresting officers, and continued the recording after he was in custody. And for that, he could be facing a 15 year prison term.
"Illinois has the worst eavesdropping law in the country," Drew said during a phone interview. "[The potential sentence] is one step below murder." Illinois is currently one of 12 states in the country that currently has eavesdropping laws which, according to the Courthouse News Service, "prevents the recording of any part of a conversation without the consent of each participating party." While most of these states provide an exception for civilians recording police conversations, Illinois is one of the three states that do not provide such exceptions with the other two states being Maryland and Massachusetts. The Chicago News Cooperative reports:Source
Audio-recording a civilian without consent is a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison for a first-time offense. A second offense is a Class 3 felony with a possible prison term of five years. Although law-enforcement officials can legally record civilians in private or public, audio-recording a law-enforcement officer, state's attorney, assistant state's attorney, attorney general, assistant attorney general or judge in the performance of his or her duties is a Class 1 felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.Drew is one of nine individuals who are currently being prosecuted for violations against the Eavesdropping Act.
In this day and age when police misconduct is rampant and almost everyone carries a cell phone capable of capturing audio and video, it is unconscionable that an individual can be charged with a crime for protecting himself in case he becomes a victim of police brutality. It is OK for law enforcement to secretly record civilians, yet an ordinary citizen in Illinois faces prosecution if they record a cop? What kind of sense does that make?
We hear cases all the time of people who are beaten, molested and otherwise abused by those who claim to "protect and serve". Yet, according to the law in Illinois, if a person records an incident with a police officer who has the potential to abuse their power, they are committing a felony. So, in other words, police are given immunity from the same standards of behavior as the rest of us, and if you record evidence to prove their transgressions, YOU can be the one in hot water!
The ACLU has become involved in attempting to stop this blatant double standard.
In August 2010, Adam Schwartz—a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Illinois—filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois Eavesdropping Act on the grounds of the First Amendment.Source
"It's an unfair and destructive double standard," he told the Chicago Tribune, pointing to the face that it is not illegal for police officers to record conversations.
Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policies of ACLU Illinois adds: "We as an organization, we believe that there's an important role that these kinds of recordings can play in terms of trying to understand the actions of police on the streets, and then using that information to advocate for particular changes in terms of police behavior…in particular [which] is protected by the First Amendment."
On January 10, US District Judge Suzanne Conlon dismissed the complaint filed by the ACLU, claiming that the arguement "was unconvincing, noting there is no 'right to audio record.'" ACLU is currently in the process of preparing an appeal to the Seventh District Appellate Court.
An attorney for Mr. Drew has twice petitioned for the charges against him to be dropped, but has thus far been unsuccessful. Yet again another case where those in power are making it clear that when it comes to human rights, the police are held to a totally different standard than the rest of us!