Judge rules Ill. eavesdropping law unconstitutional

March 2, 2012 4:23:02 PM PST
An Illinois law that makes it illegal to make audio recordings of police officers has been ruled unconstitutional.

The ruling involves the 2009 arrest of artist Christopher Drew. He was charged with illegal eavesdropping after police found out he was recording the arrest

"I'm pretty happy," Drew said. "After two plus years of following this, it's a good decision."

Dew was in front of Macy's two years ago December offering his art for sale. Police said he had to have a peddler's license or he would be arrested. Drew said, "I don't. Go ahead and arrest me."

They did, and Police would later discover that Drew had made an audio recording of the arrest without their knowledge or permission. They charged him with violating the state's eavesdropping law, which is a felony.

Drew went public with his battle against a law he calls absurd. His arrest, he says, was a public conversation with a public official on the public way. No one's privacy was violated.

"I should have the right to bring evidence into court on what that officer says to me, and that's what we're trying to do," he said.

Friday, Judge Stanley Sacks did not call the eavesdropping law absurd, but more significantly, he declared it unconstitutional, saying its language is way too broad.

"What Judge Sacks said today is that the eavesdropping law is criminalizing innocent conduct, and therefore violates due process," said Joshua Kutnick, Drew's attorney.

Under the existing Illinois eavesdropping law, you can for instance, record video of a police officer making an arrest on the public way, but you can't record the audio unless you have permission.

Judge Sacks' ruling today that the law is unconstitutional will be appealed, but the state's attorney says as much without great enthusiasm.

"As the State's Attorney, I'm going to enforce the laws that are on the books," said Anita Alvarez. "That's the law that's on the books. "We tried these past three years to change the law in Springfield, but it's gone nowhere."

State Representative Elaine Nekritz is sponsoring legislation that would change the state's eavesdropping law. Friday's ruling by Judge Sachs adds more muscle to that effort.

Sachs is the second Circuit court judge in Illinois to declare the eavesdropping law unconstitutional. As such it goes directly to the State Supreme Court for a decision, perhaps sometime this spring.