Judge Rejects Eavesdropping Charges for Recording Police

Jacob Sullum | September 20, 2011

Michael Allison, an Illinois man who faced a potential sentence of 75 years in prison for recording police officers and attempting to tape his own trial, caught a break last week when a state judge declared the charges unconstitutional.

“A statute intended to prevent unwarranted intrusions into a citizen’s privacy cannot be used as a shield for public officials who cannot assert a comparable right of privacy in their public duties,” wrote Circuit Court Judge David Frankland. “Such action impedes the free flow of information concerning public officials and violates the First Amendment right to gather such information.”

Allison, who figures prominently in Radley Balko’s January cover story about “The War on Cameras,” recorded his interactions with police officers during a long-running dispute over cars he was working on at his home in Bridgeport and his mother’s home in Robinson. When he was cited for violating Robinson’s “eyesore” ordinance, he brought a tape recorder to his trial because he had been informed that there would be no official transcript of the proceedings. The judge accused Allison of violating her privacy, thereby committing a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison under the state’s eavesdropping law; she threw in four more charges after discovering that he had recorded his police encounters as well.