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State Supreme Court Rules Eavesdropping Act is Unconstitutional

Posted on in chicago

Illinois Eavesdropping Act is one of the toughest in the country. The law was passed in 1961, making it a felony to make an audio recording of any conversation unless all parties agree to the recording. If someone is found guilty, they face a prison sentence. The punishment for being found guilty of recording a police officer is even harsher – up to 15 years in prison.

However, over the past several years, the law has faced legal challenges by people who have been arrested and charged with violating, including a case backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU). The judge in that 2011 case ruled that the law was constitutional. In his decision he said, “If you permit the audio recordings, they’ll be a lot more eavesdropping. . .  There's going to be a lot of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers.”

But a few months later, another judge ruled that the law was unconstitutional and dropped all charges against the defendant – a woman who recorded a conversation she had with officers from Chicago Police internal affairs division, where they were trying to discourage her from discouraging her from filing a complaint of sexual misconduct against another officer.

The same decision occurred in another case a year later when all charges were dropped by a judge, who also ruled the law was unconstitutional. The defendant was an artist who had been protesting a law that forbids artists from selling their products on the streets of Chicago. When he began recording the police who were arresting him for protesting, they charged him with the felony. In his ruling, the judge stated, “The Illinois Eavesdropping Statute potentially punishes as a felony a wide array of wholly innocent conduct. A parent making an audio recording of their child’s soccer game, but in doing so happens to record nearby conversations, would be in violation of the Eavesdropping Statute.”

And in a major blow to the law, the State Supreme Court has ruled the law as unconstitutional in a case that involved a woman who recorded several phone conversations she had with a Cook County court reporter regarding how to correct a court transcript.

The decision criticized the law for being too broad, thus turning ordinary citizens into criminals. In its ruling, the court wrote, “The statute criminalizes the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others,” the opinion said. “None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one.”

With the court’s ruling, until the Illinois legislature enacts a new law regarding eavesdropping, only federal eavesdropping laws will apply in the state.

If you have been charged with a crime, you need an experienced DuPage County criminal defense attorney to defend you against a sometimes overzealous prosecution and to make sure your constitutional rights are protected.

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