In Florida, it is illegal for a person to record another person’s oral communications (whether on the phone or in person) without consent of all the parties to the conversation or a court order. If the police or any other person secretly records an incriminating statement of a defendant without the defendant’s knowledge and consent or a court order, that recorded statement cannot be used in court. However, there are exceptions to the law that says these secret recordings are admissible in court.
Most people understand at this point that 911 calls are recorded and generally can be used against the defendant at trial. This includes incoming calls into the 911 operator as well as outgoing calls from the 911 operator in certain situations. If someone calls 911 and the 911 operator has to call that same number back in order to obtain further information to respond to the emergency, that call can be recorded and used in court just like an incoming call to 911. However, those are the only two situations when a 911 operator’s call can be recorded and used in court against a defendant.
A recent aggravated assault and possession of drugs case near Jacksonville, Florida presented a slightly difference scenario in which the state tried to use a recorded 911 call against the defendant. In this case, the 911 operator received a call from a neighbor who indicated there was a disturbance next door. The neighbor gave the 911 operator the phone number of the house where the disturbance was occurring. The 911 operator called the number. The phone calls was answered, but no one spoke. The line remained open, and the 911 operator heard a voice threatening to shoot the residents of the home. The police arrived and found the defendant with a gun, marijuana and pain pills without a prescription.
At the trial, the state played the 911 call recording of the defendant threatening to shoot the victims. The criminal defense lawyer appealed claiming that the 911 call recording was illegal as it was made without the consent of the defendant and without a court order. The court agreed with the criminal defense lawyer.
The Florida statute allows calls made to the 911 operator to be recorded. The law also allows calls made from the 911 operator to the same number that previously called to get more information to be recorded. However, the law does not allow calls from the 911 operator to a different number to be recorded and used in court. Because this call was not made to the same number that originally called 911, the call was not allowed to be recorded and used in court.