Friday, March 21, 2014

Your personal video can no longer get you put in the pokey by the police

During the two-plus decades I have paid attention to our political people and the way they govern, I have seen some hard-core partisan actions taken. I’ve seen mean-spirited acts meant to single out certain segments of society for abuse.

The high court on Thursday saved us from our Legislature's worst instincts.
Yet the thing that allows me to continue to have faith in our form of government is that it often seems that sense and decency prevail. Someone comes along to do the “proper” thing.

SUCH AS WHAT happened Thursday with the Illinois Supreme Court, which issued a ruling that struck down the eavesdropping laws that were enacted a few years ago that made so much of everyday observation a criminal act.

As it turns out, part of the law was already struck down – the part that made it a crime to record anything involving the police. Legislators who approved creation of that stupid law claimed people were using all those newfangled cameras in their cell phones to catch the police in improper acts.

Which meant the police were under constant supervision that could inhibit them from doing their jobs.

These are the kind of people who think the real problem with that Rodney King police beating in Los Angeles in the early 1990s was that some smart-aleck happened to record it with a video camera.

CATCHING THE POLICE in improper behavior? They were just doing their jobs, some would have us believe.

Now, the entirety of the law is struck down. The people who were eager to protect government officials from being caught in their own incompetence have been determined to have gone too far.

In this case, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Annabel Melongo, who had objections with a court transcript in a case she was involved with. She had several telephone conversations with a court reporter supervisor at the Criminal Courts Building, and she recorded at least three of them.

In Melongo’s case, she made the recordings because she wanted to make an issue of what she saw as the court reporter’s incompetence. She created a website where she wrote about her problem, and included snippets of the recordings she had on the website.

PROSECUTORS USED THE law to determine that Melongo WAS the problem. She had six counts of eavesdropping filed against her. A jury ultimately could not reach a verdict, and the charges eventually were dismissed.

But because such a high bond was set against this “threat” to our society, she spent about 20 months in jail while the criminal case was pending.

Naturally, this case was filed by the state’s attorney’s office, which claimed that the problem was in the jury that wouldn’t give them a “guilty” verdict. They wanted the charges reinstated.

Their attorneys actually argued before the state Supreme Court that the intent of the Legislature (which was to favor the actions of law enforcement and other legal system types over those of the public) had to be respected, and that trying to alter it was outside of their legal authority.

IT SEEMS THE court didn’t buy into that argument.

“Judged in terms of the legislative purpose of protecting conversational privacy, the statute’s scope is simply too broad,” read the opinion issued unanimously by the state’s high court.

Which many of would have come to the conclusion back when the Legislature (in the Rod Blagojevich days) gave its approval to this measure.

Particularly since if strictly interpreted, it could make any tourist a criminal if – while in the process of taking pictures in the Loop – they happened to catch a glimpse of a cop or two in the background. Which isn’t exactly an impossibility.


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