Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prosecutor considering whether to enforce unconstitutional eavesdropping law on a "case by case basis"

Reader(s)™ may recall previous coverage here of Illinois's unconstitutional "eavesdropping" law that makes it a felony for a citizen to make an audio recording a police officer in public.

Last we heard, the law was struck down on First Amendment grounds by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The state (Cook County, actually) appealed to the Supreme Court, but the writ of certiorari was denied. Thus the matter was settled: the law of the land is that this unconstitutional law is unconstitutional and unenforceable anywhere in this jurisdiction.

So imagine my surprise when I ran across this story today:
A Jacksonville [Illinois] man who had his phone seized for recording an on-duty police officer is not likely to be charged under the state’s controversial [sic: should read "unconstitutional"] eavesdropping law. 
Morgan County [Illinois] State’s Attorney Robert Bonjean said Monday that he is not anticipating prosecuting an eavesdropping charge against Randy Newingham — at least not at this time.
For the public at large, this does not mean that recording on-duty officers will never be prosecuted in Morgan County.
“We’ll review those reports and we’ll continue to monitor the decision from the 7th Circuit court,” Bonjean said. “I don’t foresee myself making any blanket decision, just taking it on a case by case basis.”
Let's break down this lawless nonsense.

First, he says he'll "continue to monitor the decision from the 7th Circuit." What a bizarre statement. Is he continuing to monitor Brown v. Board as well? The case is over. O-vah. The law is unconstitutional. That means you don't get to prosecute people for violating it anymore.

Yet Mr. Bonjean says he doesn't foresee "making any blanket decision, just taking it on a case by case basis." Let me help you out, Mr. Bonjean: the 7th Circuit made the blanket decision for you. When a federal circuit court finds a state law unconstitutional, that ruling is—well, it's kind of like a magical blanket that gets put over the entire state, and that blanket makes the law in question unconstitutional everywhere it touches. So you just get to cozy up underneath the blanket and prosecute the other laws that haven't been found unconstitutional (yet).

Mr. Bonjean apparently doesn't understand how legal authority works in a common law system:
“Quite honestly, I haven’t made a decision,” Bonjean said. “Officially I’ve [indicated] to [Police Chief Tony Grootens] that I won’t file charges. But technically it’s a felony charge, so I have three years from the date of the offense to file a charge.”
Do you understand what happens when you prosecute someone for violating a "law" that has been found unconstitutional? That's called violating a person's civil rights. The Seventh Circuit's opinion is "clearly established law" that would make prosecuting Mr. Newingham illegal. You might want to brush up on this stuff, sir.

It gets worse, actually, when you read the comments of Tony Grootens, the Chief of Police of the department which made the false arrest:
Grootens said he believed that Newingham was sincerely ignorant of the law.
“Believe me, [the State’s Attorney’s Office is] busy enough,” Grootens said. “There’s more pressing things on their plate right now than to go with that. I already took care of it. … I told him not to be doing it. He honestly thought he was OK to do it, so now if he continues to do it, I can’t tell you that he certainly won’t be arrested.”
This final comment should probably be the motto of his police department, encircling the badge: "We can't tell you that you certainly won't be arrested." Even if your conduct has been specifically found to be protected under the First Amendment by the federal court of appeals whose rulings are law in this jurisdiction, they can't guarantee that you won't be arrested for committing a phony felony.


  1. Methinks all it will take is for a few of these guys to lose their jobs, pensions, homes, etc. Once they have skin in the game, they will realize that violating people's civil rights just isn't worth it.

  2. That never happens.

    Absolute prosecutorial immununity.

    1. The prosecutor himself may have absolute immunity, but the prosecutor's office is a different story as it is acting with deliberate disregard for clearly established constitutional rights.


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