Can My Jailhouse Phone Conversations Be Used Against Me At Trial?
Anytime you are in jail, even if it is simply awaiting trial, you need to be mindful of the fact that your conversations with other people may be recorded and potentially used against you at trial. Unless a conversation enjoys a specific legal protection–such as the attorney-client privilege–there is no general expectation of privacy in jailhouse conversations.
Court of Criminal Appeals Rejects “Chain of Custody” Challenge to Armed Robbery Conviction
A recent decision from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Bahena v. State, illustrates just how important such evidence is to prosecutors. In this case, prosecutors charged the defendant with aggravated robbery. Specifically, a woman accused the defendant of robbing her at gunpoint and taking her backpack.
At the defendant’s subsequent trial, prosecutors introduced recordings made of several jailhouse phone calls where a “caller with a male voice discusses the robbery and the possibility of paying the victim to recant or not cooperate with the prosecution.” Prosecutors said this voice belonged to the defendant. Based on this and other evidence, the jury convicted the defendant of aggravated robbery. The court then imposed a 25-year prison sentence.
On appeal, the defense challenged the trial court’s decision to admit the jailhouse telephone recordings. The issue here was with respect to the chain of custody. At trial, a sergeant with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office testified about the recordings and explained how they were made to the jury. The sergeant also identified another officer as the person who actually “compiled” the recordings and transferred them to disc. But this other officer never testified. The defense argued that this was a legal error, as the sergeant was not the legal “custodian” of the recordings being introduced as evidence.
The CCA disagreed and upheld the defendant’s conviction and sentence. Under the rules that govern the admission of evidence in Texas criminal cases, it is not necessary for the actual person who made the jailhouse recordings to testify in-person. The rule permits another “qualified witness” to establish the authenticity of the recordings. In this case, the CCA said the sergeant was a qualified witness. More to the point, the sergeant’s testimony established that the recordings “were made at or near the time by someone with personal knowledge,” and that such recordings were made as part of the “regular practice of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.” This was critical as it established the jailhouse recordings qualified for a key exception to the normal rule against the admission of hearsay in a criminal trial.
Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today
Once again, it is crucial to understand that when you are speaking to most people from jail, you can–and will–be recorded. One of the few people you can trust in this situation is your attorney. The attorney-client privilege protects all conversations that you have with a lawyer, even if you are sitting in jail at the time.
So if you need legal advice or representation from a qualified Pearland criminal defense lawyer, contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today to schedule a case evaluation.