A Salisbury University student pleaded guilty Friday to an illegal wiretapping charge after he livestreamed a meeting with a congressional staffer for Maryland Rep. Andy Harris without permission.
In an agreement with state prosecutors, Jake Burdett, 21, pleaded guilty to one count of illegally recording the staffer. As part of the agreement, Burdett received a probation before judgement, which means police records will not show any criminal convictions, and he will need to complete 100 hours of community service.
“We need to ensure people are respecting boundaries set by Maryland’s wiretapping laws,” said state prosecutor Emmet Davitt in a news release. “Mr. Burdett apologized to the Congressional staffer and the State felt a Probation Before Judgement along with community service was the appropriate sentence.”
Burdett was charged in February with two felony counts of making an illegal recording and distributing the video after he filmed an exchange with an unnamed staffer during a Maryland Marijuana Justice rally at Harris’ Salisbury office in October.
State prosecutors said Burdett and other advocates at the Salisbury rally agreed to meet with a congressional staffer in his office, which could only seat a few people. When another member of Harris’ staff noticed several people on their phones, the group was told they were not allowed to record because of an office policy, the state prosecutor’s office said in its news release.
Burdett acknowledged in February he had continued to stream the meeting on Facebook Live without the staffer’s consent but said he was not aware it was against the law and deleted the footage the following day after finding out it was illegal.
In an email Monday, Burdett called the initial charges “unnecessarily cruel” and a “massive abuse of the wiretapping statute.” He intends to advocate for amending Maryland's two-party consent law to exempt public officials and their taxpayer-funded staffers in public spaces.
Burdett said in an interview Monday he considered fighting the charges, but ultimately agreed to the deal because of his age and the severity of the penalties associated with felony wiretapping.
“It was just a lot on the line,” he said. “I felt like I had no choice and my back was pressed against the wall. I didn't want to potentially ruin my future.”
Burdett advised young activists to understand there may be serious potential consequences before embarking on a political demonstration.
“You have to know what you're doing and you have to know the law, even when you disagree with the law,” he said.