Unauthorized third-party phone recordings do not come into trial evidence

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May 21, 2009 Unauthorized third-party phone recordings do not come into trial evidence

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

Daniel Crabtree was found in violation of federal probation in part based on audiotapes that his girlfriend surreptitiously recorded of Crabtree’s phone conversations with others.


Two days ago, the Fourth Circuit reversed Crabtree’s probation violation ruling, writing in part that: 


"In our view, the issue is resolved by the language of [18 U.S.C.] § 2515 itself. Section 2515 states, in its entirety, that ‘Whenever any wire or oral communication has been intercepted, no part of the contents of such communication and no evidence derived therefrom may be received in evidence in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof if the disclosure of that information would be in violation of this chapter.’ 18 U.S.C.A. § 2515. The statute seems to clearly and unambiguously prohibit the use in court of improperly intercepted communications; we simply see no gaps or shadows in the language that might leave lurking a clean-hands exception. Because the statute is clear and unambiguous, our inquiry typically would start and stop with its plain language. See, e.g., Connecticut Nat’l Bank v. Germain, 503 U.S. 249, 253-54  (1992) ("We have stated time and again that courts must presume that a legislature says in a statute what it means and means in a statute what it says there. When the words of a statute are unambiguous, then, this first canon is also the last: judicial inquiry is complete." (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).’"


U.S. v. Crabtree, ___  F.3d ___ (4th Cir., May 19, 2009).  Jon Katz

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