Admissibility of Interrupted Phone Recordings
In presenting evidence in a case, parties often rely on recorded conversations. In some instances, the recordings may have substantial probative value. In others, they may be exculpatory. However, what happens if the recording has time lapses? How does the law handle the admissibility of interrupted phone recordings?
Recording Inadvertently Interrupted
The New Jersey Supreme Court recently decided on a case where a phone recording was inadvertently interrupted. The facts of State v. Nantambu, No. 073589, (N.J. Apr. 29, 2015) originate with charges of domestic violence and weapons offenses. As the case proceeded, the defendant was further accused of bribery, witness tampering and tampering with physical evidence. The recorded phone conversation was slated as evidence for the later counts.
Atlantic City police arrested the defendant when his girlfriend called them to the scene to report domestic violence allegations. She indicated that the defendant threatened her with a gun. The defendant consented to a search of the premises. A gun was found under one of the beds. Subsequently, weapons charges became part of the arrest.
The case was referred to the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s office. Prior to trial, the defendant’s girlfriend left a message for the Prosecutor’s office. She complained that the defendant was telephoning her and requesting that she tailor her testimony on his behalf. The defendant had offered her remuneration in exchange for her cooperation.
With the victim’s consent, the Prosecutor’s office assigned two detectives to listen to a conversation between the two parties. The victim used the Speaker feature of her cellular phone to broadcast the conversation. Meanwhile, the detectives affixed a recording device to her phone.
Although the defendant implicated himself in the eighteen-minute conversation, there were two minutes of interrupted recording. Call Waiting beeped during the conversation and the victim switched over to the other call. Although she quickly returned, there was a lapse in the recording. The other recording gap occurred when the phone accidentally fell to the floor and the recording device was briefly disconnected. The recording missed a piece of conversation vital to the case.
When the matter was heard in court, one of the detectives testified that even though the recording showed a gap, he could still hear the conversation on speakerphone. He stated that nothing valuable was missed in the recording. The other defendant indicated that he could only hear the victim’s end of the conversation.
The trial court ruled in favor of defendant’s motion to suppress the entire taped recording. However, the Supreme Court felt this was a discretionary abuse. Although some of the recording could not be admitted, it was not necessary to exclude the entire tape. Most of the recording was admitted into evidence.
Admissibility of evidence is a frequent legal issue. If you are facing criminal charges, the Law Firm of Beninato & Matrafajlo can assist you. Contact us for a complimentary appointment to learn your rights.