Being arrested, placed in handcuffs, and processed through a jail is a jarring, scary experience. Understandably, many people’s first instinct is to call a loved one or close friend from jail and pour their heart out over the phone. In a situation where all of your personal belongings have been taken from you, you have lost your freedom, and you’re worried about your future, it’s normal to reach out to a loved one or support person for help.
What you may not realize is that telephone calls placed by inmates are recorded or monitored – usually both. Divulging details about the case, the arrest, or the circumstances of the alleged crime can hurt you, as prosecutors may use your words against you in later stages of your defense case.
No Right to Privacy for Jail Conversations
A person in jail does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding phone conversations. Many jails even play a warning at the beginning of a call, informing the inmate that the call is being monitored. However, this does not stop people from discussing details about their case and possibly giving prosecutors evidence against them. According to one report, several recent Indiana prosecutions have been helped significantly by information inmates provided during monitored telephone calls.
Although you should never assume that a jailhouse telephone call is private, conversations with your lawyer are protected by the attorney-client privilege. This means that anything, with a few notable exceptions, you tell your lawyer is private and can’t be used against you in court.
Because many counties use automated recording software that records all telephone calls, including calls to an attorney, some people worry that the authorities will listen to a call that is otherwise privileged. For this reason, it’s always preferable to arrange an in-person meeting with your lawyer. According to The Marshall Project, there have been instances when jail authorities wrongfully listened to an inmate’s phone call to a lawyer. In Washington state, the court dismissed assault charges pending against one man because evidence showed the police had listened to a privileged phone call.