Ever since ordinary Americans have been able to instantly videotape any given situation, there have been powerful forces working to circumvent the Constitution and prohibit use of such technology.
The most recent example involves a California man who was tossed in jail for four days after he attempted to videotape police officers on a public street.
In that case, Daniel J. Saulmon was charged with resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer, even though the video clearly shows him standing well away from a traffic stop, and that he was only arrested after he failed to produce identification for an approaching officer. As an aside, there is no California law that requires a citizen to produce identification (remember, this is a state that welcomes illegal immigrants). And, as others have pointed out, even if there was such a law on the books, officers would be required to have reasonable suspicion that the person being asked for ID was committing a crime.
Unable to defend the indefensible
Now; however, such arrests will hopefully become a thing of the past following a just-announced U.S. Supreme Court ruling which upholds a citizen’s right to video police.
Justices decided not to hear a case involving the state of Illinois’ authoritarian “eavesdropping” law that has been regularly abused by authorities to prevent citizens from taping cops in action.
The Chicago Tribune reported that in deciding to pass on the issue, justices left standing a ruling by a lower federal appeals court which found that the law violates free-speech rights when it is applied to persons who tape police.
In June, the appeals court issued a temporary injunction, which effectively barred Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez from prosecuting anyone under the current statute. In late November, the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued Alvarez over the statute, asked a federal judge hearing the case to make the injunction permanent, according to Harvey Grossman, the legal director for the ACLU’s Illinois chapter.
Grossman went on to tell the paper he believes a permanent injunction would ultimately set a precedent across the state that irreparably hampers enforcement of the law.
This is the way of Chicago politics
Alvarez has a deadline to respond to the ACLU’s request, but a spokeswoman for her office, Sally Daly, said a Supreme Court ruling in the case would have been better, providing “prosecutors across Illinois with legal clarification and guidance with respect to the constitutionality and enforcement” of the statute.
And yet, the high court’s non-ruling seems to have done just that – provided enough nails in the coffin of this authoritarian statute to bury it, since the lower court already ruled as much, at least in regards to the taping of police officers.
Which is as it should be, if the goal is to reaffirm constitutional liberty. The state’s eavesdropping law is one of the most stringent in the country, making audio recording of a law enforcement officer, even while in public and on duty, a felony that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
That’s not surprising in a state where Chicago politics, and the mob mentality associated with it, rules. We can’t have citizens recording corrupt public officials counting the votes of dead people, after all.
Fortunately, the law was so ridiculous and harsh that it sparked a widening public debate that began last year. In August 2011, the Tribune said, a Cook County jury acquitted a woman who was charged with recording Chicago police internal affairs investigators she thought were attempting to dissuade her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against a patrol officer.
Later, judges in Cook and Crawford counties declared the law unconstitutional. The McLean County state’s attorney further cited problems in the law when dropping charges in February against a man who was accused of recording a policeman during a traffic stop.
Using what can only be described as twisting legal logic, Alvarez argued that allowing citizens to record police would act as a deterrent, dissuading them from talking candidly to police and thereby causing problems in securing crime scenes or conducting what she called sensitive investigations.
Nothing constitutional about it
The federal appeals court; however, ruled that the law “restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy says he’s in favor of a change in the law that would permit citizens to tape police – and vice versa.
But this law doesn’t need to be “revised,” it needs to go away. The state of Illinois has a way of abusing its citizens that pales by comparison.
Resident Michael Allison essentially facing life in prison for recording police after authorities and prosecutors considered the maximum sentence possible for five counts of violating the eavesdropping statute.
Following a public outcry, the judge in the case threw it out, recognizing its unconstitutionality.