Skip to Content

Jails Break the Law When They Record Conversations of Lawyers & Inmates

March 20, 2012

In many jails, administrators do whatever they want, like record privileged discussions between inmate and attorney. Here is an important story about that from Harvey Rice in the Houston Chronicle: "Most jails in Texas indiscriminately record conversations, Davis said. He said the sheriff of Matagorda County, where he is representing a client, has "hours and hours" of recordings of their conversations."

by Harvey Rice in the Houston Chronicle

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — The Galveston County Sheriff’s Department hastily instituted a new policy recently when it was discovered that conversations between inmates and their attorneys had been recorded for at least a decade. Defense attorneys say the practice is common statewide.

Sheriff Freddie Poor said a complaint by a district judge led the department to begin programming the names of all the defense attorneys practicing in Galveston County into the jail’s computerized phone system. Once a number is in the system, recording automatically halts when it is dialed, Poor said.

“One, it’s a good idea, and two, it’s long overdue,” saidGary Trichter, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “Galveston is where the rest of the state ought to be.”

Recordings warn inmates and recipients of their calls that the conversations are recorded. If a client blurts out something during a phone conversation with his attorney, the attorney must rely on the word of prosecutors and jailers that it won’t be used in trial, Trichter said.

“What’s to prevent a sheriff’s deputy from listening to a call and finding other evidence that was illegally derived and then it’s given to the prosecutor?” he said.

“Knowing that the phone calls are recorded or could be recorded has a chilling effect,” he said.

All phone calls made by inmates in county jails, other than calls to attorneys or religious counselors, may legally be recorded and used in court, Poor said.

The Harris County Jail also has been routinely recording all conversations, including those between attorneys and clients, but is trying to change the practice, sheriff’s spokesman Alan Bernstein said. Bernstein said the jail has been programming defense attorney phone numbers into the system over the past few months.

Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said that when the problem came to his attention a few weeks ago he asked his prosecutors if they had ever listened to a recorded attorney-client conversation.

The only such incident that came to light involved the 2009 “Baby Grace” capital murder trial. An investigator for the prosecution was reviewing recordings of jail phone calls made by Royce Clyde Zeigler II, accused with his wife of beating to death his stepdaughter, 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers, and keeping her body in a plastic box for two months before tossing it off the Galveston Causeway.

Roady said the investigator stopped listening as soon as he came across a conversation between Zeigler and attorney Neal Davis III.

Davis recalled that he was notified by prosecutors at the time, but he said the conversation was harmless.

Most jails in Texas indiscriminately record conversations, Davis said. He said the sheriff of Matagorda County, where he is representing a client, has “hours and hours” of recordings of their conversations.

Seventy-six county jails and private prison operators in Texas, including the Galveston County Jail, use phone systems provided by Global Tel(asterisk) Link, or GTL. Regional Account Manager Corby Kenter said all the company’s systems can block recording of selected phone numbers. He said the company does not keep a record of how jails use the systems.


Translate »
Back to top