Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman extended an injunction preventing Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez from prosecuting anyone under the Illinois Eavesdropping statute, for video recording a police officer who is acting in his or her official capacity in public, according to Josh Weinhold of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. Previously, Ms. Alvarez’s office had been prosecuting these cases, which under the statute are Class One felonies, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The injunction will stay in effect until Judge Coleman makes her final ruling.
From Mr. Weinhold’s article:
A federal district court judge said Friday that a preliminary injunction — preventing Cook County State’s Attorney Anita M. Alvarez from prosecuting American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois (ACLU) employees for recording police officers in public places — will remain in place until the case concludes.
A 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in May ordered the preliminary injunction, blocking prosecutions against the ACLU for violating Illinois’ eavesdropping law.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman approved the injunction Friday and extended it until she makes a final ruling in the case.
While the measure protects only ACLU employees, prosecutors told the judge they would not charge any citizens for recording police while the preliminary order remains in place, an Alvarez spokesman said…The state’s eavesdropping law allows citizens to gather video of police in public, but making audio recordings can lead to Class 1 felony charges that carry a 15-year maximum prison sentence…In May, the federal appeals court found that the law, one of the strictest in the nation, violated ACLU employees’ First Amendment rights. Recording police in public comprises a form of public speech, the court said, as it facilitates political dialog about the actions of government employees.
In recent months, two state trial courts also deemed the law unconstitutional, ruling that it subjected innocent conduct — like recording an officer giving driving directions — to prosecution.
The ACLU estimates that at least 14 people saw charges brought against them for violating the law in the past eight years, including three by Alvarez’s office.
While the Illinois attorney general’s office abandoned an appeal of a trial court ruling on the eavesdropping law, Grossman said, Alvarez appears willing to defend it.
Yet, prosecutors can’t answer the ACLU’s one “ultimate question” about a policy that restricts audio taping of police, he said.
“If I can stand there and photograph, video record or listen and take notes on the conversation,” Grossman said, “what is the harm to public safety that occurs because I can audio record?”