The Huffington Post provides two glaring examples of how the Illinois' eavesdropping law is being used as a hammer against the state's citizens who attempt to record events to protect them against what they perceive to be an overreaching government. In one case, a woman attempted to file a complaint against a Chicago police officer who sexually groped her while responding to a domestic call. When police frustrated her efforts to file a complaint, she began recording their conversation. The woman was later arrested for surreptitiously recording her conversation with police while months later no charges have been brought against the police officer who sexually groped her.
HP recounts a more egregious case where a Robinson, Illinois man, Michael Allison, is facing a potential 75-years in prison for recording his conversations with police over a local zoning ordinance dispute after he attempted to use a digital recorder to record a court proceeding and police discovered the recorded conversations on his digital recorder after the judge ordered him arrested:
This Robinson, Ill., man is facing four counts of violating the eavesdropping law for the recordings he made of police officers and a judge. Allison was suing the city to challenge a local zoning ordinance that prevented him from enjoying his hobby fixing up old cars: The municipal government was seizing his cars from his property and forcing him to pay to have them returned. Allison believed the local police were harassing him in retaliation for his lawsuit, so he began to record his conversations with them.HP rightly concludes that convictions in these cases will likely make their way to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court in appeals that will likely focus on whether the state laws violate a citizen's First Amendment rights. HP notes the irony that Illinois would have such a law where Chicago police have been at the center of criminal prosecutions in federal court for abusing the rights of defendants through unlawful interrogation attempts, including torture, and face more citizen complaints for police misconduct than virtually any city in America.
When Allison was eventually charged with violating the zoning ordinance, he asked for a court reporter to ensure there would be a record of his trial. He was told that misdemeanor charges didn't entitle him to a court reporter. So Allison told court officials he'd be recording his trial with a digital recorder.
When Allison walked into the courtroom the day of his trial, the judge had him arrested for allegedly violating her right to privacy. Police then confiscated Allison's digital recorder, where they also found the recordings he'd made of his conversations with cops.
Allison has no prior criminal record. If convicted, he faces up to 75 years in prison.
In a hearing last week, Allison argued that the Illinois eavesdropping case was a violation of the First Amendment. The judge ordered a continuance so that the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan can prepare a response. (Madigan's office did not respond to HuffPost's request for comment.)
It's difficult to think of another big city in America where citizens would be more justified in wanting an objective account of an interaction with a police officer. At about the time Moore's story hit the pages of The New York Times earlier this year, for example, former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison for lying under oath about his role in the routine torture of hundreds of suspects in police interrogation rooms for more than a decade. Nearly everyone else involved in the tortures, including the police commanders and prosecutors who helped cover them up, couldn't be prosecuted due to statutes of limitations.
Over the last few years, surveillance video has also exposed a number of police abuses in Chicago, including one episode in which an off-duty cop savagely beat a female bartender who had refused to continue serving him. He was sentenced to probation.
In 2008, the city made national headlines with another major scandal in which officers in the department's Special Operations Unit -- alleged to be made up of the most elite and trusted cops in Chicago -- were convicted of a variety of crimes, including physical abuse and intimidation, home robberies, theft and planning a murder.
In a study published the same year, University of Chicago Law Professor Craig B. Futterman found 10,000 complaints filed against Chicago police officers between 2002 and 2004, more than any city in the country. When adjusted for population, that's still about 40 percent above the national average. Even more troubling, of those 10,000 complaints, just 19 resulted in any significant disciplinary action. In 85 percent of complaints, the police department cleared the accused officer without even bothering to interview him.