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The Dangers of Inmate Jail Calls

During the phase of a Florida criminal case known as “discovery”, the State discloses the evidence and witnesses it would use against you or your loved one at trial in a document titled “State’s Discovery Exhibit.”  Sometimes in that document, the State lists “jail calls” as some of its evidence.  Whenever I see that, I cringe.

As a general rule, lawyers or loved ones cannot call into a Florida detention facility to speak with an inmate.  Rather, the inmate must initiate the call.  And, inmate calls are recorded.  The parties to the call are warned the call is recorded.  Furthermore, those recordings are reviewed for both security concerns and for incriminating evidence.  And, if you think you’ll avoid scrutiny by speaking a foreign language, you’re wrong.  Foreign language calls are translated and reviewed too.

Despite being warned that all conversations during jail calls are being monitored, in many cases jail calls provide damaging evidence against the caller.  There are several reasons this occurs.  First, the caller may not truly hear or appreciate the warning that all calls are recorded.  Second, oftentimes the caller is upset at being arrested and makes statements they later regret.  Finally, sometimes the caller has been incarcerated for long enough that they let their defenses down and say things that come back to haunt them. 

Even calls between lawyers and their incarcerated clients are recorded.  In those calls, the warning that plays at the beginning of the call constitutes a voluntary waiver of the attorney-client privilege that otherwise precludes the recording or use of conversations between attorneys and their clients.

If a loved one is incarcerated in the Duval County Jail, the Nassau County Jail, the Clay County Jail or the St. Johns County Jail, make sure to advise them on their very first call out to you that your conversation is being recorded and that they shouldn’t say anything they wouldn’t want a judge or jury to later hear.  Moreover, they should be advised to refrain from profanity and to not otherwise speak in a manner reflecting poorly on them or their character.  Basically, the rule is this:  no one in jail should discuss the facts of their case with anyone other than with their lawyer when they are both physically present.

Your loved one’s case can have a bad outcome if this rule isn’t followed.  For example, in Orange County, Jennifer Helen Richmond, a suspected upscale “escort” facing a racketeering charge, was blind-sided during a bond-reduction hearing when a federal agent said he listened to more than 100 of her jailhouse phone calls and heard her talk about plans to flee the country.  The judge denied Richmond’s request for reduced bond and additionally ordered she surrender her passport.

And, back in June 2012, prosecutors charged George Zimmerman’s wife, Shellie, with perjury after determining she lied during her husband’s bond hearing and said they were broke.  George Zimmerman was jailed at the time of that hearing, and recorded calls showed he and Shellie used a “code” to talk about the thousands of dollars being donated to his defense fund.  Based on that evidence, Shellie Zimmerman subsequently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge and was sentenced to one year of probation.

Finally, prosecutors handling the case against Jesse Davis, convicted of killing two Winter Park High students, said jailhouse phone calls showed he was faking signs of mental illness to trick doctors who were evaluating his competency.

Recording inmate calls is a common practice.  Don’t fall into the trap of believing no one will take the time to listen to them.  Diligent prosecutors and detectives will spend hours listening to your conversations to find incriminating evidence.  If you’re not careful, those calls can pose a major challenge for your criminal defense attorney.  If your loved one is in jail, it’s important to contact a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer who understands the importance of meeting in person with them to discuss their case.  Doing so will give your loved one the best chance of avoiding the State listing jail calls as damaging evidence in the case against them.  Call me for a free consultation to discuss how I can help your loved one with their criminal case in Duval, Clay, Nassau or St. Johns Counties.