Last year, a Facebook Live post landed a student in legal trouble that meant he could face 10 years in prison. Jake Burdett, the 20-year-old Salisbury University student and cannabis activist was charged with felony wiretapping for using Facebook Live while in the office of Maryland Representative, Andy Harris.
In October of 2018, Burdett decided to attend a protest outside of state Rep. Andy Harris’ congressional office in Salisbury, Maryland. The cannabis advocacy group, Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ), organized the protest at Andy Harris’ office from Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, because he is well known for opposing the legalization of marijuana in DC.
Harris is also known for having accepted $42,200 from the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2017-2018 election cycle.
Harris’ office staffers invited a group of the demonstrators into the building to speak with the Representative. Burdett was chosen as one of the activists to attend the meeting and he kept his Facebook stream going, but he didn’t obtain consent to film in the office.
Maryland is one of several states with “two-party consent” laws, meaning that everyone being recorded needs to give permission for a “lawful” recording to take place.
When Burdett found out what he had done was illegal, he removed the video and personally apologized to Harris’ staff. It didn’t matter, Congressman Harris decided to press charges for felony wiretapping.
On February 15th, the Facebook Live stream led the student to be charged with multiple counts of felony wiretapping. Andy Harris’ office officially filed the charges against Burdett.
MDMJ released a statement to the press stating, “Rep. Harris wants to pretend to be victimized by a 20-year-old’s deleted livestream, while he supports the racist war on drugs that actually victimizes thousands of people a day by locking them up for the victimless crime of smoking marijuana, a non-addictive substance with many medicinal benefits.”
The government was able to pressure and threaten Burdett into striking a plea deal for probation and community service, if Burdett complies for three years the case will be dropped.
In an interview with the Real News Burdett said, “I was facing two five-year charges, two five-year felony charges each with a maximum potential of $10,000, there’s a lot to risk there. Sure, the payoff could be good of winning the case and possibly maybe even setting a new precedent, but ten years in jail is not what I want to do either, especially at such a young age.”
“What they did was, they offered me a plea deal, the state prosecutor’s office, a plea deal where I would be to get probation before a judgment deal. So technically, no convictions but still, on probation for three years with 100 hours of community service, which, of course, that’s better than two five-year felony charges. But still, I don’t want to be on probation for three years and it kind of opened my— I always knew, as a progressive activist, that the criminal justice system is very much rigged, but now, living through this firsthand, it’s opened my eyes to how it’s rigged and that they can just throw such harsh penalties at you.”
“Even if you’re moderately confident that you’re going to win the case, if they offer you a probation deal, it sort of traps you into taking the deal because it’s such a big risk in challenging it.”