A 13-year-old who recorded a conversation with his school's principal and another administrator has been charged with felony eavesdropping.
Student Paul Boron began recording before stepping into Principal David Conrad's office for a February 16 meeting with Conrad and Assistant Principal Nathan Short, after he failed to attend several detentions at Manteno Middle School.
Boron says he argued with Conrad and Short for around 10 minutes in the reception area of the school secretary's office. When Boron told the two administrators that he was recording, Principal Conrad reportedly the student that he was committing a felony and quickly ended the conversation.
Two months later Boron was slapped with a class 4 felony charge of eavesdropping.
“If I do go to court and get wrongfully convicted, my whole life is ruined,” said Boron, who lives with his mother and four siblings in Manteno, Illinois, an hour southwest of Chicago. “I think they’re going too far.” -Illinois Policy
Kankakee County Assistant State's Attorney Mark Laws wrote in his petition to bring the charge that Boron "used a cellphone to surreptitiously record a private conversation between the minor and school officials without consent of all parties."
“It blew my mind that they would take it that far … I want to see him be able to be happy and live up to his full potential in life, especially with the disability he has,” said Boron's mother, Leah McNally.
The Manteno district handbook prohibits students from recording interactions with other students at school, while the school itself is allowed to record the students. It says nothing about when students may record teachers or administrators.
What's more, Illinois eavesdropping law - some of them most strict and controversial in the country, is similarly vague - which has led to several contentious legal battles and attempts at reform.
Christopher Drew, an artist arrested for selling artwork on a Chicago sidewalk in 2009, was charged with a felony for recording the incident. In 2010, Bridgeport resident Michael Allison was charged with a felony for recording his own court hearing after the court did not provide a court reporter. The same year, Chicagoan Tiawanda Moore was charged with a felony for recording conversations with Chicago Police Department investigators regarding her sexual misconduct complaint against an officer. -Illinois Policy
The reason for the legal fiascos is due to the fact that Illinois is an "all-party consent" state, meaning that recording any conversation without the consent of all parties is a felony, while federal law and most states allow for one-party consent.
Boron’s case raises a number of questions critics pointed out in the debate surrounding the 2014 law. Namely, when does someone have a “reasonable” expectation of privacy? And is it fair to expect Illinoisans to know where to draw that line in their everyday lives?
One of the eavesdropping law’s sponsors, former state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, responded to criticisms of the law’s clarity with an especially vague remark. How does one tell when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy when recording police officers, for example? “We’ll know it when we see it,” she told the Chicago Reader.
That’s not likely to serve as any comfort to a 13-year-old facing criminal charges. -Illinois Policy
“In a public school setting, what kind of reasonable expectation of privacy can there be for a principal interacting with the public?” asked Wayne Giampietro, former president of the Illinois-based First Amendment Lawyers Association.
Saleem Mamdani, another attorney who has participated in an Illinois State Bar seminar on eavesdropping, also can't believe the charges.
“With authority figures, if you are engaging in official action, how are you expecting that to be private?” he said. “You are relying on the fact that you had this conversation in imposing current or future discipline.”
Mamdani says that Illinois' eavesdropping law is prime for a court challenge - especially considering how common recording devices on smartphones and devices are.
Nonprofit president Terri Miller, who heads the group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME) says that students' ability to record interactions may be a critical factor in exposing wrongdoing.
“What child is going to come forward and try the same thing?” said Miller, adding “It will have a deterrent effect on children to report, to speak up when something is wrong.”
Boron isn't sure what he wants to be when he grows up, though he has considered entering the military - something which he and his mother now fear may be in jeopardy if he is convicted.
“It would be heart-wrenching,” McNally said of a potential guilty verdict.
“He didn’t do anything wrong, and for him to be snatched from his family, the emotional impact that’s going to have … it’s just going to follow him throughout his years.”