Recording a Conversation: Creativity or Illegality?

In the age of cell phones and the Internet, society has taken communications to areas that were never thought to have been possible. With the advancements of technology, there have also been pitfalls in the field of criminal procedure, and one such zone of danger for the criminal defendant is the recorded conversation.

At first glance, we see the Michigan Eavesdropping Law is encompassed in Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL) which indicates that a defendant can face a 2-year felony and up a $2,000 fine if a recording is made without the consent of all parties. On its face, it would appear that Michigan is an “All Parties” consent statute, but there is often much ambiguity on the subject. To have more understanding on the topic, we asked criminal lawyers in our state to provide further insight into the law.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has earned a reputation for having what most feel is the most successful criminal law firm in the state of Michigan with a strong presence in the federal court system. When asked about the Michigan Eavesdropping Law, Grabel stated, “There is one critical exception to our statute that can lead to issues for the criminal defendant. If we turn to the “Sullivan v. Gray” case, we learn that if an individual is a party to the conversation they can record the communication (Sullivan v. Gray, 117 Mich. App. 476, 324 N.W.2d 58, 59 – 61 (1982). In this respect, we see that the Michigan law displays similarities to its companion federal statute.”

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus’s firm has a strong presence in the criminal law sector but also practices civil litigation. When asked about the subject, McManus indicated, “The Michigan statute presents a great amount of danger in criminal law because someone’s freedom can become compromised from a statement made on a phone call. With that stated, we see the debate over recorded conversations often become the center of controversy in family law and all areas of civil litigation. This theory is not a new concept but one that often is brought up at the Michigan Court of Appeals.”

Ravi Gurumurthy is a top criminal defense attorney in Cadillac, Michigan and has seen this subject arise on many different levels. Gurumurthy stated, “In family and law and criminal defense, we see the recorded call as a constant. I always provide free advice to a client that being cautious in a conversation is something that should be a requirement in their everyday life.”

Grabel went on to add, “The conversation of today is deemed as a party admission of tomorrow and because of this, we have a situation where one should always pursue any conversation with caution.”

In Michigan, the law of eavesdropping presents a topic that reads one way but is interpreted in a variety of fashions. The harsh reality is that many judges can easily be given with a state of confusion on this issue and when in doubt, guidance will be presented by the federal statute. The federal law does not protect our conversations the way one may hope, and that is something that we need to learn from in the game of litigation and the game of life.

William Amadeo is a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan and a partner at Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Amadeo is licensed in Michigan, New Jersey and the federal court system. In addition to his legal duties, Amadeo is a widely published journalist and owns BAT Tutoring. Amadeo can be reached at

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