The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) keeps churning out some interesting decisions, this one on the subject of the privacy, or lack thereof, that inmates and detainees in Massachusetts prisons can expect in their telephone conversations.
In a 4-3 ruling, the SJC ruled earlier this month that both prison inmates, and detainees (persons who have been arrested but not yet tried,) have “no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy” in their phone conversations. The ruling means that prosecutors and grand juries may access the recordings of those phone calls. The ruling applies to all kinds of detainees and inmates, from those accused of assault and battery to those convicted of sexual assault, rape and drug offenses.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Roderick L. Ireland, ruled that due to the fact that inmates and detainees are informed when they are first incarcerated that their calls are being recorded, “no privacy interest exists in the recorded conversations such that they cannot be obtained by a grand jury subpoena.” The decision affirms a contempt order issued previously against Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly. Cabral had previously declined to provide a grand jury with telephone recordings of a particular pretrial detainee, even though she had received a subpoena for them. According to the decision, Cabral supported turning over the tapes to the grand jury, but was concerned that an unrelated Superior Court decision “called into question the propriety of compliance with grand jury subpoenas seeking recordings of pretrial detainees’ and inmates’ telephone calls.” It was through her act of refusing to turn over the calls, that she sought a clarifying opinion from the SJC. And she got it.