Illinois Bill Would Criminalize Filming Fights to Put Online

Published: Mar 24, 2016, by admin in Criminal Defense, Legal Blog

Illinois State Representative Terri Bryant (R-Mount Vernon) has proposed a new law that would make it illegal to film a fight and share it on an Internet platform such as YouTube or Facebook. Targeted at students who film and post videos of fights on social media, House Bill 4419 is highly controversial and stands little chance of being passed into law.

HB 4419 has significant constitutional and policy shortcomings, and even Representative Bryant seems to concede that her proposal is largely symbolic. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, she stated: “I just want to send a clear message that it is unacceptable to stage these fights or be a willing bystander.”

The Proposed Bill Would Make Filming a Fight a Misdemeanor

HB 4419 prohibits filming and uploading a fight with the intent of condoning or promoting violence. The proposed law also makes it illegal to not make such a video available to law enforcement. A violation of the statute would be a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.

Having a class A misdemeanor on one’s criminal record can have devastating consequences. It can make employment with the government or in certain professions (from barbering to architecture) an impossibility. The consequences for students are even harsher: many colleges do not accept applicants with such a serious offenses on their records.

HB 4419 Is Unconstitutional and Bad Public Policy

Historically, American courts have protected an individual’s First Amendment right to take photos or videos of events that take place in public places—even those that some people might find offensive. Thus, it is likely that a legal challenge to the law premised on the First Amendment would succeed.

HB 4419’s prohibition of recordings of public places gives the government too much power to regulate free speech. As Ed Yohnka, spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, stated: “We think this proposal is overly broad and unconstitutional.”

The proposed law is also bad policy. Amateur videos of fights are invaluable evidence in police investigations, yet HB 4419 would discourage bystanders from filming violent incidents. Thus, the law could result in less crimes being solved.

HB 4419 Demonstrates a Poor Understanding of the Criminal Justice System

HB 4419 would create a law that would be unworkable in the context of the criminal justice system. According to Matt Jones of the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor office, the proposed bill would create an offense that prosecutors would have difficulties in proving. This is because the law requires that the offender act with the intent to promote or condone violence, yet the intent of someone who posts a video online is extremely difficult to substantiate beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, HB 4419 needlessly criminalizes the conduct of children, at a time when Illinois and the rest of the country is coming to terms with the excessive incarceration of minors. Even anti-cyberbullying groups think the proposed law goes too far. For example, Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, stated that HB 4419 would result in kids being “introduced to the justice system well before they need to be.”

At O’Meara Law, we’re dedicated to defending the rights of individuals facing criminal charges. From DUIs to assault, we have experience defending a wide array of criminal offenses. If you need a Chicago criminal defense attorney, call us today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.