Alabama Law on the Privacy of Jail Letters & Recordings

Tags: Criminal Defense

Many people after their arrest will quickly bond out of jail in order to await trial. Others, particularly those facing charges for violent or serious offenses, may be incarcerated until their trial date, with bond in some cases being too high to pay or the judge not allowing for bond at all.

No matter how long you are actually incarcerated prior to your trial, Birmingham criminal defense attorneys want both you and your loved ones to understand something critically important: the conversations you carry on with your loved ones while in jail are not necessarily private.

Almost all facilities record phone conversations had by inmates, and both incoming and outgoing mail is screened by jail staff. These are pieces of evidence which can be later used against you in a court of law.

That is what is happening to a Mobile man, accused of stalking, homicide, domestic violence – and now, perjury.

According to a local news station, the perjury charge is based almost solely on conversations that were recorded between the defendant and his sister while he was incarcerated and awaiting trial.

The individual is a former county commissioner, and when arrested on the initial charges, he told the judge he was indigent, meaning he could not afford an attorney to aid in his defense.

Under the ruling made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, anyone who is facing a felony charge and facing more than 1 year in prison has the right to have an attorney appointed to represent him or her in the criminal case if he or she can not afford it. However, a person must swear under oath that he or she does not have their own money in order to cover this expense. If the judge later learns that individual is lying or concealing assets, he or she may be additionally charged with perjury.

That’s what happened with George Zimmerman’s wife in the Trayvon Martin case out of Florida, and that’s exactly what happened here.

A local television station reports that jail recordings seized by the state prove that the defendant committed perjury by attesting that he had no money, when in fact he did. Throughout several conversations with his sister, the defendant refers to $15,000 he has saved in a separate account. He talks about dispersing several hundred dollars to her, and is heard instructing her what to do with the rest.

Meanwhile in court, the defendant attested that he had just $1,200 in the bank. Prosecutors say the recordings prove that not only did he have the money but he clearly knew he had money.

The defense has countered that the defendant did not consider this money available, as he was paying nearly $3,500 a month for child support and alimony. (On his affidavit, however, he claimed that he paid more than $6,600 a month in alimony and child support.)

His sister reportedly moved the money out of his bank account until after the judge had appointed him a defense attorney, at which point she moved it back. This, the prosecutor says, amounts to perjury.

First-degree perjury, as defined in Alabama Code 13A-10-101 is when a person swears falsely and his or her false statement is material to the proceeding in which it is made. It is a Class C felony, and it’s punishable by between 2 and 20 years in prison, depending on the circumstances.

Some people think they can talk or write “in code” to loved ones while in jail. It is almost never as clever as they think, and prosecutors almost always have a way of figuring out a lot of what is being said.

Your best bet is to reserve conversations relevant to your criminal case for your attorney alone. If you are unsure whether a conversation is relevant to your case, ask your lawyer first.

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