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IL County Attorney Seeking To Enforce Unconstitutional Law Draws The Attention Of The ACLU

from the lack-of-blanket-statement-meets-blanket-legal-decision dept

As was recently covered here, a Morgan County, IL state’s attorney by the name of Robert Bonjean declared his intentions to selectively enforce a state law declared unconstitutional by the Seventh Circuit Court.

The law in question was the 1960 Eavesdropping Law that forbade recordings without the consent of both parties. The court stated that using this statute to prevent citizens from recording police was likely unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, a citizen (Randy Newingham) was detained for doing exactly that. Bonjean said he wouldn’t issue a “blanket statement” on citizens’ recordings and would take it on a “case-by-case” basis.

The local police chief, Tony Grootens, added to the mess by declaring the detained citizen was ignorant of the law governing recordings, issuing a statement that showed it was actually the chief who misunderstood the law. Bonjean then issued a low-key threat, mentioning he had three years to toy with the recording citizen by holding a pending felony charge above his head. Grootens himself suggested he might arrest Randy Newingham if he continued to record on-duty police officers.

When officials start screwing around with the Constitution, they tend to draw the attention of parties very interested in preventing this sort of abuse. Bonjean’s “I do what I want” statement drew the attention of the ACLU’s Illinois branch, whose senior staff counsel, Adam Schwartz, fired off a letter to the state’s attorney demanding some answers.

Mr. Newingham’s action–audio recording an on-duty police officer in a public place–is protected by the First Amendment. See ACLU v. Alvarez, 679 F.3d 583 (7th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S. Ct. 651 (2012). The Illinois Eavesdropping Act violates the First Amendment as applied to such audio recording. Id. This decision is controlling throughout Illinois. For your convenience, a copy of the opinion is enclosed.

By August 23rd, please advise me whether civilians in Jacksonville will face arrest, and in Morgan County will face prosecution, if they audio record on-duty police officers.

Well, that clears that up, hopefully. It’s tough to say how Bonjean arrived at the conclusion that a circuit court decision affecting the entire state somehow excluded his jurisdiction, but both he and Police Chief Grootens seem to be projecting an air of almost-deliberate obtuseness about the court’s decision.

Or it could be they just didn’t get the memo. (Schwartz has rectified that by sending a copy of the opinion.) Sure, the Supreme Court issued its kick to the curb back in November of last year, but maybe news travels more slowly when it’s news you don’t want to hear.

At this point, there has been no response from either Chief Grootens or Robert Bonjean, according to the Jacksonsville Journal Courier. I would imagine any further comments will be run by a legal team rather than directly from Bonjean’s or Grooten’s brains to their mouths.

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Comments on “IL County Attorney Seeking To Enforce Unconstitutional Law Draws The Attention Of The ACLU”

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16 Comments
kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

The thing that bothers me about police officers harassing Americans who are recording them is why are they so against this? Surely if there are bad police officers, that the rest of the police force would want them removed from employment.

Not only that, but these police officers are acting like they are personally liable for the lawsuits when those lawsuits and/or settlements are paid out by the city in which they are employed.

StayedAtHolidayInnLastNight (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They are all bad? Is that the reason? Because if peer pressure, or the blue code or the Boy Scout Pledge or any other reason is used not to report illegal, unethical or generally bad behavior by fellow officers, the individual who does not provide the report is also BAD. No donut for cops who don’t report law breakers.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

The thing that bothers me about police officers harassing Americans who are recording them is why are they so against this? Surely if there are bad police officers, that the rest of the police force would want them removed from employment.

It’s an “us vs. them” situation and they feel that they have to protect their “us” from our “them” at any cost. Admitting that there are bad cops, makes them look bad, and they won’t stand for that.

Steve says:

Re: Ahahaha

“Surely if they are bad police officers, that the rest of the police force would want them removed from employment.”

You’re funny. It’s almost as if you’ve never actually met one of these police officers you speak of, or have heard of the “thin blue line” and the code of silence that “good” cops are more than happy to use to protect the crooked ones.

There aren’t good cops. There are ones that are actively abusing the rights of citizens, and cops that protect them. It really is that simple.

Anonymous Coward says:

Was threatened in McClain county in college 2006ish under same law. Actually the police just thought I was housing the video and threatened to arrest me even though I had no idea what was on it or that it existed (my roommate riding in the car of the individual who recorded the tape). I didn’t have the tape and yet still was threatened with incarceration. IL = corruption

Anonymous Coward says:

surely this is just another example of how ‘Law Enforcement’ seems to think that the law doesn’t apply to them, unless they deem it to do so, isn’t it? how many times has there been reports on these very pages of how police officers basically do as they damn well want. a recent example was the arresting of a person taking pictures whilst being 90Feet from the officers, on a public footpath. the question to ask is, if you are an officer, charged with upholding the law, should you not know the law? should you not know when you can and when you cant arrest someone, especially when there has been so much reporting of a certain aspect and procedure? those that dont bother to learn the law should not be given the job of enforcing it. and when this type of disastrous error is made, there should be punishments!

U the Frood (profile) says:

Likely unconstitutional?

How binding is a court’s claim that something is likely unconstitutional? That actually sounds like the issue still needs to be resolve definitively in another case. So while the police and attorney’s probably SHOULD know better than to try to push this, it doesn’t sound like they’re technically out of line here.

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