Federal court says police cannot enforce law banning the tape recording of arrests

There are many factors that could be important when defending oneself from criminal charges. Among these, the circumstances leading up to and including the arrest itself and any associated search and seizure are central to determining if evidence was illegally obtained. Those circumstances can also demonstrate whether the police had probable cause to initiate the arrest in the first place.

Recently, a federal court stepped in to block the enforcement of a law that made it illegal to record police officers while they were arresting someone. The law specifically targeted audio recording, relying on eavesdropping statues. The law was challenged as part of a program aimed at keeping police officers accountable to the public.

The Illinois state law that was enjoined by the ruling relied upon that state’s eavesdropping law, which requires the consent of all parties involved before making an audio recording. The federal appeals court determined that the privacy interest that the eavesdropping law seeks to protect would not be negatively impacted by allowing recordings of police officers performing their duties in public spaces.

Fortunately, Illinois is unique in the application of its eavesdropping law, but this inclination to keep under-wraps the specific facts and circumstances surrounding an arrest is interesting. Criminal prosecution would be much easier if suspects never questioned the legality of their arrest or whether the purported evidence was collected as part of an illegal search. We all have constitutional rights that the police must respect, but they are of little use if we do not exercise them.

Source: Chicago Sun Times, “Appellate court halts enforcement of law barring recording of cops,” Abdon Pallasch, May 8, 2012