While protesting a law than banned Chicago artists from selling their work on the street, artist Christopher Drew decided to try an act of civil disobedience in 2009 that ended up getting him arrested.
While he expected the arrest, did not anticipate what would happen next. He was ultimately charged with a Class 1 felony under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, a controversial law that forbids citizens from recording police officers when they're enforcing laws in a public space. Under the law, he faced 15 years in prison.
On Friday, Cook County Judge Stanley Sacks ruled in Drew's favor -- and said the eavesdropping law was unconstitutional.
“The Illinois Eavesdropping Statute potentially punishes as a felony a wide array of wholly innocent conduct,” the judge read, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “A parent making an audio recording of their child’s soccer game, but in doing so happens to record nearby conversations, would be in violation of the Eavesdropping Statute.”
Sacks is not the first Illinois judge to rule this way. Last August, a judge cleared Tiawanda Moore of all charges after Chicago police officers arrested her for recording a conversation with them. The officers were allegedly trying to stop her from filing a sexual harassment complaint against another Chicago cop, and she spent more than two weeks in jail.
Moore is now suing the city and the officers involved.
The American Civil Liberties Union has repeatedly challenged the law, and even some law enforcement officials have expressed concern about its constitutionality.
Chicago's new police superintendent Garry McCarthy called the law a "foreign concept," and said officers can benefit from having events on tape -- so there are no false accusations of misconduct later.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director for Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Associated Press the law was "bone-headed."
"You might be OK if you are CNN, but not if you're a blogger or look like any citizen on the street," she said.
While other states have similar laws on the books that require "two-party consent" when it comes to recording a conversation, most have an important exception that permits the recording of law enforcement in the public way.
Amendments to the law were approved by a statehouse committee in early February, and the new version would remove language forbidding citizens from "recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear."
The measures are expected to pass -- especially in light of Drew and Moore's cases.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has stood by the policy. She told the Chicago Reader this week that if the law is amended, it should make it easier for police to record citizens.
“If you’re going to allow the average citizen to tape the police officer, the police officer should have one-party consent,” she told the Reader.
It is unclear if prosecutors will appeal Judge Sacks' decision, but Drew will likely fight on until the law is history.
"I knew from the beginning that we had to commit to fight the constitutionality of this law," Drew told the AP.