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"Telephone Call" Using Inmate Phone System Held to Be Wiretap Violation

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The PA Supreme Court determined that the use of a two-way, "face-to-face" calling system commonly used by inmates to speak to visitors violates the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act.

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Defense Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

In Com v. Fant, 66 MAP 2015, 2016 WL 5462712  (decided September 28, 2016), the Supreme Court majority determined that a two way, "face-to-face" call through a prison "phone system" violated the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act.  Thus, the evidence or communications seized through the improper wiretap had to be suppressed or not used by the prosecution.  The PA Wiretap Act provides a general exception for the recording of "any telephone calls from or to an inmate," as long as certain conditions are met.  The law is designed as a safeguard to individual privacy while also provide a tool for law enforcement to combat crime.

Here, Fant spoke to a visitor about a crime through a "face-to-face" system through glass that uses a typical hand receiver.  The calls never go through a typical telephone company.  The High Court determined that these were not typical telephone calls because they never go through a telephone company and thus, don't meet the understanding of a typical everyday phone call.  Noting, that calling into a facility through common telephone lines would be entirely different and both parties on the line must be informed of the possibility that their calls may be taped and intercepted.

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