Phone Calls from Jail – How Can They Effect Your Criminal Case?

March 1, 2022 Criminal Defense

Being placed in a jail cell is an extremely stressful situation. Preparing for your court case and receiving legal advice from a defense attorney is part of the process in handling the case. Although it may seem quite obvious, many defendants do not take their conversations within jail seriously. When a person is incarcerated and makes a phone call home, to a friend, or elsewhere, they tend to not think of how it can negatively impact their case.

The scary reality is that a jailhouse phone call can be the nail in the coffin of sending a defendant to jail. Even if the defendant is cooperating with their attorney, remaining silent unless told otherwise in interviews of questioning, one little phone call can make all the difference in a case.

In fact, you can imagine the jailhouse phone as a game of telephone. Anything you say will be passed on. It can seem like you’re holding a tin can tied to a string and attached to the other side is the prosecutor. Or in a more modern concept, the other side is attached to the computer of the prosecution side.

When you get checked into a jail cell, you’re giving up your personal belongings—as well as your privacy. This may come to a complete surprise to some who believe that the calls they make within the confines of jailhouse to a loved one to vent or discuss details about their case are private.

Discussing details regarding your case over the phone can be incredibly damaging, and, depending on what is being said, could end up being the key factor that results in your guilty charge. We will cover the details of jailhouse phone calls and how they can affect the outcome of your case.

Breaking Down Your Privacy in Jail

According to Dave LaBahn, president of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, it is a common practice across the United States to record inmates’ phone calls. In Orange County, both prosecutors and law enforcement have the ability to request recorded calls from the jail administrator. Live calls are also available for tuning in.

The general rule under the Florida Department of Corrections is that an inmate must initiate a call between loved ones or an attorney, not the other way around. The parties of the call are warned that these calls are recorded. The recordings are meant to be for security purposes, but are also used for the purpose of obtaining incriminating evidence. Even if you were to call someone and speak in a foreign language, your conversation will be translated and reviewed.

Calls between the defendant and attorney are recorded as well, and a warning is played at the beginning of the phone call to constitute the voluntary waiver of the attorney-client privilege that otherwise precludes the recording or use of conversations between the client and their attorney.

There are several reasons why jailhouse calls end up providing damaging information in a case. For one, the defendant may have not heard or understood the warning provided about all jailhouse calls being recorded. Alternatively, the anger and stress of being stuck in jail can make the defendant get worked up and accidentally vent about statements that they would normally not address. If a defendant has been incarcerated for a long period of time, they may let their defenses down and let something slip, which will eventually come back to haunt them and negatively impact their case.

When entering a jail, you are giving up most of the privacy you previously had. The Fourth Amendment right to privacy is measured in two parts:

  • The defendant must have a subjective expectation of privacy
  • This expectation must be one that society recognizes as reasonable

The Florida Supreme Court has recognized that the status of being a prisoner limits the prisoner’s privacy interest. This includes the prisoner’s right to privacy in the area they are being confined. With every jail explicitly warning that jailhouse calls are monitored and recorded, it is safe to say there should be no expectation of privacy.

An Attorney’s Best Advice

The most common thing a defense attorney will tell their client about jailhouse calls is to not speak about any of the facts regarding their case. You can call friends and loved ones to say you miss them, talk about the weather, make plans after getting released, etc. However, if you start to talk about the case in any detail, there’s a good chance you could slip up and say something that is incriminating. Or, the person on the other end of the call could accidentally say something that incriminates you, ultimately hindering the likelihood of success in your case.

It is also advised not to do any bad mouthing about the judge, prosecution, arresting officer, or any part of the legal system over the phone. Failing to follow this advice can lead to embarrassment, regret, and in the most extreme cases—a harsher sentence.

This all may seem very self-explanatory, however more often than not it is the defendant that causes the most harm to their own case by revealing too much information over jailhouse phone calls. A jailhouse call may reveal information that would not otherwise come up in court, ultimately giving the prosecution the exact information they needed to convict you.

In some cases, defendants believe that they can outsmart authorities. They may not believe what they say over the phone is actually incriminating, or that the authorities will figure them out. However, more often than not, that is just not the case.

A prime example of this is the case against Jesse Davis, who was convicted of killing two of his fellow students from Winter Park High School. While making a call from jail, Davis revealed that he had been lying about suffering from mental illness in order to trick the doctors into falsely evaluating his competency. This information was ultimately used against him, and he was convicted of two counts of kidnapping and two counts of murder, resulting in three consecutive life sentences in prison. 

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Whatever may be the reason for a defendant talking on the jailhouse phone, it can cause serious issues to their case. Even if someone is receiving the legal help from the best attorneys, slipping up and saying something over the phone in jail has the potential to nail the coffin in your case. Once the defendant has been recorded saying something over the phone, there are not many objections left to be made.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime in the state of Florida, you should immediately seek out the legal help from an experienced defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients from all walks of life for various cases. Call (850) 681-7777 today and receive a free consultation regarding your case. 

Written by Karissa Key

Back to Top