The Jailhouse Call: The US Constitution Need Not Apply

The jailhouse call may be the most dangerous weapon to destroying an individual’s freedom. The call is one way that a criminal defendant can lose the protection of the attorney-client privilege and the United States Constitution. While the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct will protect conversations between the attorney and their client and the 4th Amendment provides a reasonable expectation of privacy, any protection that the defendant has will be washed away once they make a call from jail. To discuss this issue in greater detail, we gathered commentary from several of the top criminal defense lawyers in the state of Michigan. iStock_000011602905_Large-2-300x200

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has developed a reputation as running the top criminal defense firm within the state. Grabel spoke of how a criminal defendant can destroy their own case by not understanding the danger of the jailhouse call. Grabel was quoted as saying, “The expectation of privacy is forfeited when someone is incarcerated. A simple conversation can turn into a party admission that could destroy someone’s defense. Many prosecutors lay in wait for the jailhouse call to gain an advantage should a case go to trial. It is important that the client understands this upon retention. There are far too many lawyers that become careless in this regard.”

Matthew McManus is a Managing Member of Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and provided insight when he said, “The lawyer needs to make a face-to-face interaction with the client to protect the 4th Amendment Rights that the client has. In law school we were taught that the client loses these rights once the jailhouse doors are shut but the face-to-face meeting still provides a strong level of protection. Making the trip to the jail and/or prison and doing a contact visit is what is required to fulfill your obligation of diligence.”

Ravi Gurumurthy is a top criminal defense attorney in Cadillac, Michigan and also works with Grabel and Associates. When asked about the jailhouse call, Gurumurthy said, “Whenever a client gets on the phone with me, they have a need to tell me things that may not be in the police report and the first thing that I tell them is that they need to stop talking. Even something positive about their case could be twisted in a way to harm their case. There are no positives to speaking on a jailhouse call.”

The field of criminal law presents an uphill battle even for the most-skilled litigator and when the defendant speaks to their family or their lawyer on the jailhouse call, they often want to explain things but this is not the time to be opened about anything. Grabel added, “Every client has three desires in a criminal case. First, they want to win and protect their freedom. Second, they want to get this matter over with and lastly, and most importantly to their family, they want to tell their side of the story. Sadly, telling their side of the story could in the wrong setting could destroy their hopes of freedom.”

While the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Attorney-Client privilege are protections to the criminal defendant, these protections can easily become compromised and it is our job as litigators to protect the rights of our clients. A slip of the tongue could lead to a lifetime in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

William Amadeo is a partner at the law firm Ann Arbor Legal in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate at Grabel and Associates which has offices throughout the state of Michigan. Amadeo also holds a New Jersey license and is involved in class action litigation throughout the state. Amadeo can be reached at Williamamadeo@Grabellaw.com.