While the recording of police may be permissible when creating reality TV, it can land average citizens in shockingly deep criminal trouble — but today Illinois judge Stanley Sacks ruled that one eavesdropping law, which prohibits citizens from recording audio or video of others without their consent, is unconstitutional. The law was used in 2009 to charge 60 year-old Christopher Drew with a class 1 felony for recording his conversation with a police officer while being arrested for selling art patches on the side of the road. The right to record police on duty has been under debate in recent years, as stories like Drew's are surfacing with regularity — In 2010, Maryland resident Anthony Graber faced 16 years in prison for uploading a video to YouTube, which showed a police officer in plain clothes jump out of an unmarked car with his pistol drawn. Graber's case was eventually dismissed, but other examples of similar charges based on controversial interpretations of state law abound.
As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Judge Sacks said that "the Illinois eavesdropping statute potentially punishes as a felony a wide array of wholly innocent conduct," and noted that a parent making an incidental audio recording of nearby conversation at their child's soccer game is an example of something that would violate the law — so recording the police isn't necessarily sanctioned by the state yet as a result of the ruling. But as the Sun-Times reports, Illinois lawmakers are working to make it legal to record conversations with police officers who are performing their duties in public places. Without such legislation, citizens may still find that an action as simple as recording something on their smartphone — a nearly effortless task in modern times — can bring frightening consequences.