Illinois Prosecutor Brings Felony Eavesdropping Charges Against 13-Year-Old Who Recorded His Conversation With School Administrators

from the no-crime-too-small dept

One of Illinois’ most-abused laws continues to be abused. For years, cops used the state’s eavesdropping laws to arrest citizens who attempted to record them. This practice finally stopped when three consecutive courts — including a federal appeals court — ruled the law was unconstitutional when applied to target citizens recording public servants.

This may have led to the end of bullshit arrests from cops who didn’t like being observed while they worked, but it’s still being used by government officials to punish people they don’t like. Illinois Policy reports a 13-year-old student is facing felony charges for recording a meeting between him and two school administrators.

On Feb. 16, 2018, [Paul] Boron was called to the principal’s office at Manteno Middle School after failing to attend a number of detentions. Before meeting Principal David Conrad and Assistant Principal Nathan Short, he began recording audio on his cellphone.

Boron said he argued with Conrad and Short for approximately 10 minutes in the reception area of the school secretary’s office, with the door open to the hallway. When Boron told Conrad and Short he was recording, Conrad allegedly told Boron he was committing a felony and promptly ended the conversation.

Principal Conrad sure knows his local statutes. He turned Boron in to law enforcement, which apparently decided to go ahead and process the paperwork, rather than tell Conrad to stop acting like a child. This led to prosecutors being just as unwilling to be the adults in the room.

In his petition to bring the charge, Kankakee County Assistant State’s Attorney Mark Laws wrote that Boron on Feb. 16 “used a cellphone to surreptitiously record a private conversation between the minor and school officials without consent of all parties.”

The law forbids recordings without all parties’ consent. It would seem that the school officials’ refusal to discuss anything further once they were informed they were being recorded should have been enough. The conversation was ended, along with the recording. If they were concerned they said something they shouldn’t have during the previous ten minutes, maybe should have restrained themselves during the argument, rather than ruin a 13-year-old’s life with a bad law Illinois legislators refuse to rewrite. Given how often this law is used to protect the powerful, it’s hardly surprising legislators haven’t expressed a serious interest in fixing it.

As it stands now, the law relies on a “reasonable expectation of privacy” to determine whether recordings without the consent of all parties are illegal. A conversation in a school’s reception area hardly seems to be the place where privacy would be expected. Unfortunately, the law doesn’t actually say recordings in ostensibly public areas are legal. This was the legislature’s response to multiple court rulings declaring the old law unconstitutional. This may have made most recordings of police officers legal, but it still makes lots of recordings of public officials — like school administrators — a felony.

For a 13-year-old, this is a huge problem. This places his recording of his conversation with school officials on the same level as aggravated assault and stalking. It comes with a minimum prison sentence of one year. The reaction by school officials is petty and vindictive and only draws more attention to the recording at issue. If these officials are willing to subject a student to a felony prosecution to keep the conversation from being made public, what sort of things were said by the supposed adults in the room?

Anyone further down the line — from local law enforcement to the county prosecutor — could have put a stop to this chain of events but they all chose not to. The cops may feel they had no choice but to follow up, but the “prosecutorial discretion” lauded most frequently by those who rarely exercise it (prosecutors) is, once again, nowhere to be found.

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Comments on “Illinois Prosecutor Brings Felony Eavesdropping Charges Against 13-Year-Old Who Recorded His Conversation With School Administrators”

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Anonymous Coward says:

“The reaction by school officials is petty and vindictive”

school officials = petty and vindictive

why else would they crap up “Zero Tolerance” policies… unless it’s something their politics says must be tolerated that is.

Kids are kids… they need to be able to make some mistakes without it fucking up their life… but these clowns do not care… no matter how much they say they do when their unions get on their soap boxes!

Bruce C. says:

Re: Re:

I wonder about the missed detentions and the reasons they were given in the first place…were those earlier mistakes by the kid, or was there a vindictive policy in place even before the recording. Why would he have even thought about recording the conversation if he thought he was being treated fairly.

Not enough facts out there to decide for sure. He could be a kid that was spiralling down long before this incident, but a felony rap isn’t going to do a damn thing to rehabilitate him.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you know that there is a LAW against Bitching at an employee, IN PUBLIC VIEW??

“Boron said he argued with Conrad and Short for approximately 10 minutes in the reception area of the school secretary’s office, with the door open to the hallway. “

HE IS MY KID..(not really) he is a MINOR..If you are thinking you can be REAL SERIOUS WITH M|Y KID…I SUGGEST YOU ASK ME FIRST…

It was a public area. He was a minor.. the MINOR has more protections THEN YOU DO, as a minor..
Intimidation in a public area..IS AGAINST THE LAW..

Kevin Hayden (profile) says:

Administrators may have shot themselves in the foot

If the school administrators wanted to keep the conversation out of the public eye, they may have shot themselves in the foot. The lawyer for the kid should ask to have the entire recorded conversation entered into the public record at the trial. Perhaps a threat of this nature would cause the prosecution to reconsider its case, or at least prove embarrassing to the administrators.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Administrators may have shot themselves in the foot

Schools often have security cameras. Police have dash cameras. Lots of businesses have cameras. Many of them record sound as well as video.

The government exemption to wiretapping, eavesdropping and voyeurism laws requires the government possess a valid warrant. Engaging in those activities without a warrant is every bit as illegal for the government as it is for private citizens.

Where is the school’s warrant? Where is the police warrant for those dash cams? For body cams?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Administrators may have shot themselves in the foot

Lots of businesses have cameras. Many of them record sound as well as video.

The laws are generally stricter for audio recordings, so they should be careful with that. If they’re recording video only, and there are signs, that’s fine in most or all of the country (except in specific places, restrooms etc.).

James Hills (profile) says:

Re: Administrators may have shot themselves in the foot

Until it is ruled that the recording is legal, the minor’s attorney will not be able to submit the recording to evidence. If the recording was done unlawfully, it is inadmissible in court.

I wish we could get a copy of it, though. I’m certain the boy recorded the incident because of the numerous encounters that required him to go to detention, which he didn’t go to anyway, was his way to prove to his family that he is being mistreated by these school officials.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

One really needs to ask what the school staff was up to.
To destroy a 13 yr olds life over a meeting…
I wonder how many children they call in and bully on a regular basis, but no one believes the kids because school officials would NEVER do anything bad to kids & attempts to have a recording to avoid the truth being whatever the adult claims later needs to be treated like an assault.

One does wonder if the prosecutor no longer wants the job b/c its hard to explain away I sent a 13 yr old to prison for the felony of trying to record a meeting with school officials where the student wanted a record of what was said.

But hey, rules are rules and if you didn’t want a school to prison pipeline you wouldn’t ever question your betters.

David says:

Can't we put him in the sex offender registry for this?

I mean, a 1 year felony prison sentence is nice and all that but to send a real message to U.S. children, fucking them over for the rest of their life just seems more impressive.

A year is over so fast. Well, at least the U.S. prisons are in a state where they may mar him for the rest of his life as well, so maybe it’s not that much of a lost opportunity.

tom (profile) says:

There is something going on between Mr Boron and that school administration because of all of the detentions and Mr Boron deciding to miss them. Might be interesting to investigate that in the process.

Wonder what Mr Conrad and Mr Short said that they are so afraid of being recorded?

Wonder if Mr Conrad and Mr Short violated any rules by having a ‘detention/punishment/etc’ discussion with a minor student in a public area? There are some pretty interesting Federal laws on preserving student privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Actually, this raises another issue: when a child is at school, they are wards of the state.

That means that this isn’t the case of one private individual recording a conversation with two public individuals… it’s the case of one child recording a conversation with his wards.

This means that it’s the same as if your kid presses record on your phone while at home without your permission, and then tells you 10 minutes later that they’re recording.

Does any sane individual really think that this violates the all parties rule? The child is supposed to be in their care, which means that THEY are responsible for any recordings that child makes. So it should be the adults in the room who get the felony charges, NOT the 13 year old.

Anonymous Coward says:

the "prosecutorial discretion" lauded most frequently by those who rarely exercise it (prosecutors)

Seems there may be some misunderstandings here. Prosecutorial discretion is exercised routinely. Now, it may be exercised in a way contrary to how they claim it will be exercised (getting the powerful off of very real charges, as opposed to getting the peasants off of stupid ones), but it’s laughable to claim it isn’t brought to the gym for a nice workout 3 times a week.

Walter Tuvell (profile) says:

Different example of Ill secret recording

FYI: I’m in the process of using a surreptitious recording (of Fed officials, in Ill), in a Federal Judicial Misconduct proceeding of mine. It has some novel twists (federal judicial clerk/employee; cross-state; anonymous because speaker refused to divulge her name). Audio + transcript at

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Door open to hallway makes the conversation "public".

Unfortunately, as the article points out, recordings in public areas still aren’t legal unless you have permission from all recorded parties. This is something that has to be worked out by the state legislature. All I know is that if this happened to any of my family members in Illinois, there’d be some issues.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Door open to hallway makes the conversation "public".

The law makes it illegal to record a “private conversation” as defined in the statute, where it just says a “private conversation” is one where a party has a reasonable expectation that the conversation is private. It could certainly be argued that a conversation in a reception area with the door open is not reasonably expected to be private, as opposed to, say, a conversation in the principal’s office with the door closed.

The statute also says that one-party consent is allowed if the recording is made to gather evidence of a crime. So, if the school officials were doing (or intended to do) something illegal to the child, he’d be within his rights to make the recording.

It seems to me that a decent lawyer could rip this case to bits even without going into the constitutionality of the law.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: no parents?

Not at all. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the term "in loco parentis" but, it means that the school acts in the place of the parents/legal guardians while the child is at school. There are limits to this power but, it generally allows the school to act in the child’s best interests as they see them.

Asking where a student was during a scheduled detention period is well within that power although my school district would have probably just suspended the student pending a meeting with his or her parents (my district called that closing their classes since it doesn’t become a three-day suspension unless they didn’t bring a parent the next school day) at that point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ulterior Motives

I can’t help but think the real reason why the prosecutor is bringing this is the same reason they have kept trying to abuse wiretapping laws – they are dirty as hell and they know anyone standing up to corruption means their ass could join their past governors in jail.

I’d love it if the FBI got involved and investigated them. Maybe go after their families too if they were involved in laundering bribes.

Arrow J Smith says:

Cowards at Manteno Middle School

Manteno Middle School is lost in truth and scared the recordings will be damning to the two idiots crying about it. If you are doing your job right and not threating children you would be OK. The two administrators are cowards and it shows. Our schools are lead by lack of leadership and ethics. Parents should have been at school. Two adults and one child I think not.

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