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Artist Could Face 15 Years In Prison For Recording His Own Arrest

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Will Guzzardi
The Huffington Post
Jan 23, 2011

Chris Drew was finally ready to get arrested. An artist and activist, Drew had spent years protesting a Chicago ordinance that puts tight restrictions on where and how people can sell their art on the street. He was downtown, on State Street, selling silk-screened patches for $1 and defying the city to stop him.

He’d tried his act of civil disobedience three times before — a First Amendment lawyer on hand to argue his case, a team of videographers ready to film the arrest — but the police simply let it slide. When, on December 2, 2009, he finally succeeded in getting booked, Drew was ready for a few hours in lock-up on a misdemeanor, and a lengthy court battle. He was in no way prepared for what he would actually face.

The state charged Drew with a Class 1 felony, not for selling art on the street, but for violating the Illinois Eavesdropping Act by recording his own arrest. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

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“Illinois has the worst eavesdropping law in the country,” Drew said in a phone interview. If not the single most punitive, it’s certainly in the top three.

The state is one of twelve that has so-called “two-party consent” eavesdropping laws. This means that audio recording any conversation is illegal unless all parties to the conversation consent.

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t

All but three of those states make an important exception to that law: the recording of police conversations in the public way. Only Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois deem such recordings illegal, and the Maryland attorney general recently issued an opinion suggesting that taping the cops shouldn’t be prosecuted.

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This article was posted: Sunday, January 23, 2011 at 6:30 am

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