Using the Phone at Jail, Do’s and Don’ts

Handcuffed man making phone call

While you are in jail after an arrest, you only have one real lifeline to everyone in the outside world; the telephone. In Mecklenburg County, phone calls from the jail booking area are free of charge but once you move to a pod inside the facility calls have a 20-minute limit and each call costs money from your account. Other area jails have similar services that can be an exorbitant amount of money just to reach loved ones. But beyond the monetary cost, jail phone calls can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case. ALL phone calls from jail facilities are recorded and can be used to prosecute you in court.

Here are some DO’s and DON’TS regarding these crucial calls:

DO discuss court dates, scheduling, or other needs that you have while you are in jail. While these calls are recorded and they can always be used to prosecute you, they are only admissible in court if they are relevant. You can and should speak freely with your loved ones about concerns you have in the outside world that need immediate attention. An arrest is a huge disruption to daily life and it can have lasting consequences. Do not be afraid to discuss details about your court dates or gather information from loved ones.

DON’T discuss details of the incident that led to your arrest over the phone. Police will be looking through your calls to make use of any information at all, regardless of how small it seems to be. If any details seem out of place, or contradictory to other evidence, you can be sure that the prosecutor will use them against you. Avoid discussing times, places, or your location during the incident in question. That material is relevant to your case, and it can be used to punish you.

DO discuss your needs when it comes to bond and consider discussing plea offers that you have been given. Discussions about securing your release from jail are essential to you. As long as your focus is on how to get out and what is being done to contact bail bondsmen or gather money, those conversations will not be admissible against you in court. Additionally, if your lawyer receives a plea bargain from the prosecutor they will likely want you to discuss it with your family so that you can get their input before coming to any decision. So long as you just discuss the options rather than the incident itself, these conversations around negotiations are not admissible in court. Make sure to frame your discussion about which option appeals to you most, rather than discussing any facts about the case.

DON’T make any admissions to any wrongdoing whatsoever. This is the most critical mistake that can be made during a jail call. The state may not have much evidence at all against you, but every admission you make over a recorded call will be used in court to convict you. For example, avoid making statements like:

  • “I made a mistake”
  • “I’m done”
  • “I shouldn’t have done that”
  • “I’m sorry”
  • “I’m guilty”
  • “I messed up”
  • “I BLEEPed up”

Even without any other context, these statements are admissions that will come into evidence. That can make what could otherwise be a very winnable case much more difficult. You may find yourself in a position where the only way to fix these admissions is to take the stand in your own defense to explain them. Jurors are very discerning, and they will likely see through excuses so the best way to avoid this situation is to remain silent.

DO use your own ID or account to make all your calls from the jail, other than to parties who you are not legally authorized to call. Those parties would include people whom the court ordered you not to contact, such as codefendants in your case, state’s witnesses, or a party that has an active restraining order against you.

DON’T try to use someone else’s account or ID to make a call to fool law enforcement. The software that is used to help sift through the recorded calls is not very sophisticated, but it can do simple things like search by phone number. Once the Sheriff sees several numbers called from a person’s account, they will search for that number throughout all recorded calls. When a resident of the jail makes this type of call, it is usually not hard to trace it. Plus once the case goes to court, the Sheriff would be allowed to testify to not only the nature of the call, but even to compare your voice to the one in the call and make an opinion about how similar that they sound to each other.

DO tell your loved ones to speak with your lawyer and provide your lawyer’s name and contact information to them if you haven’t already. Establishing a relationship with the important people in your life is crucial to any attorney, so make sure to have a list of contacts in case of an emergency. You’ll want to make sure that you tell your lawyer who they can speak to directly about your case during their first visit with you, since all communications between the two of you are privileged and cannot be shared without your permission.

DON’T call your lawyer over the jail phone. Since the calls are recorded and a warning to that effect is clearly stated before each call, courts have ruled that those recordings waive attorney client privilege and they are admissible for the purposes of prosecution. A good lawyer will tell you to hang up the phone so that they can visit you directly and privately to discuss your case. If you have important information that you want to share with your attorney, your best choice is to have a loved one contact your attorney and tell them to visit you at the jail as soon as possible.

Follow these DO’s and DON’Ts when you use the phone from jail and you will stay connected when it matters most while not hurting your case when it goes to court!