In New Orleans jail, what you say – even in confidence – could convict you

An arrested suspect might think phone conversations with an attorney are private and can't be used as evidence, that's not necessarily so, says one law lecturer

jail cell


Just when you thought that attorney-client privilege would protect you, inmates in New Orleans found out that they need to watch their confessions when speaking to their lawyers on a jailhouse phone, because it would be used against them in a court of law.

In their Miranda rights, everyone has the right to remain silent, but if inmates decide not to use it and divulge information to their attorney while on a phone in jail, it could be used as evidence to convict them, according to the New York Times.

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In one case, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s office actually used the unfair advantage against an inmate, said his lawyer, Thomas Frampton.

An inmate who was waiting to be tried on drug charges told his attorney that he had just finished going through detox.

His recorded confession was used against him in court to prove that a needle the inmate was in possession of when he was arrested actually was used for illegal drugs. While a needle can be used for many things, like controlling diabetes by using it for insulin shots, that confession was all prosecutors needed to convict the man of possession of drug paraphernalia. Otherwise he might have walked away.

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“It ended up being the critical evidence,” said Frampton, who was then a public defender in New Orleans and is now a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

Frampton’s objections to the finding was disregarded by the judge.

The attorney-client privilege helps guarantee the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel, according to The New York Times.

But in New Orleans jailhouse conversations are being recorded and archived for later use against defendants.

new report from Court Watch NOLA, a nonprofit group says that New Orleans has a high incarceration rate and tapping the jailhouse phones is wreaking havoc on an already distressed system.

“Where the attorney-client privilege is subverted, so too is the truth-seeking function of the legal system,” the report concludes.