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Recordings of Inmate Phone Calls Not Available to General Public

tape.jpgIt seems as though the media has crept into every aspect of our life. At any given time, you can access the live traffic cameras on the streets of Orlando. Google gives us satellite images of our rooftops, as well as street level views of our homes. Recently, there was an attempt to make the recorded phone conversations of jail inmates public records as well, for anyone to access at any time. This could really spell trouble for an Orlando criminal defense attorney such as myself. How can we get a fair trial if every word a client says is there for the whole world to hear?

This issue arose in the case of Bent v. State, 46 So.3d 1047 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). Matthew Bent was an inmate in the Broward County jail, awaiting trial on an attempted second degree murder charge when a local newspaper made a public records request to obtain the recordings of the phone conversations between Bent and his family and friends (lawyer calls were excluded, of course!). Bent’s attorney moved to block the release, arguing that inmate recorded calls are not subject to a public records request.

Article I, section 24 of the Florida Constitution gives everyone “the right to inspect or copy any public record made or received in connection with the official business of any public body, officer, or employee of the state.” So, what is a “public record”? To best understand this definition, it’s important to realize that the purpose of the Public Records Act “is to open public records to allow Florida’s citizens to discover the actions of their government.” Christy v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff’s Office, 698 So.2d 1365, 1366 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997).

The court denied the newspaper access to the phone calls because the recorded calls are not considered public records which would help the public oversee the actions of local government. Furthermore, It’s important to remember that the jail contains both the guilty, and the innocent who are simply awaiting trial. There is some expectation of privacy that is being protected by the court, though all inmates should expect their calls to be heard by both the police and the prosecutors–no inmate expects that everyone else will be listening as well.