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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > December 2013 > Interrogations (Secret Recordings and Privacy Rights): State of Ohio v. Williams

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Interrogations (Secret Recordings and Privacy Rights): State of Ohio v. Williams

Question: Do suspects have a right to privacy in a law enforcement interrogation room?
Quick Answer: Typically no, but if a recording device is hidden and a reasonable person would believe the room was not monitored, the suspect may have an expectation of privacy.

State of Ohio v. Williams, Eleventh Appellate District, Trumbull County, Nov. 19, 2013
Facts: Jacquavis Williams turned himself in to police after a DNA hit linked him to a shooting and aggravated robbery. After arriving at the police station, Williams and his mother were taken to an interview room. Williams did not request an attorney, but wanted his mother present during questioning. The room contained a desk and a couple of chairs. There were no windows or mirrors, and nothing in the room would lead a person to believe there was a way to view into the room or that the room was monitored by a recording device. The room, however, contained an audio/video recording device hidden in the thermostat. The detective left Williams and his mother alone in the room, telling them he was going to get the Miranda waiver and case file. On his way out, he turned on the recording device. While alone, Williams admitted to his mother that he was at the location of the crime, but assured her he was innocent. The detective came back to the room and gave Williams his Miranda rights. Williams stated he did not know or remember if he was at the location on the day of the crime and denied being involved in the shooting. The recorded statement was used to show Williams was at the crime location. Williams filed a motion to suppress the statement made to his mother, arguing he was entitled to an expectation of privacy and the conversation had been secretly recorded.
Importance: The court determined that in a majority of cases, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for conversations held anywhere in a police station. However, this case is different because the interrogation room contained no indication that the activity could be monitored or recorded. As a result, a reasonable person would expect that the room was not monitored and would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Keep in Mind: If your interview room suggests an environment of privacy, you may have a problem using a hidden monitoring device there. In this case, the device was hidden in the thermostat. A reasonable person would not believe a thermostat would be used for recording or monitoring. If the recording device was in the open or there was a notice saying a recording device may be in the room, a reasonable person would be put on notice that they may be monitored and would not have an expectation to privacy.
More on Interrogations
Foreign Nationals and Consulates. You are working a rape and burglary case. The main suspect is a Korean national. You conduct an interview, give Miranda rights, get a confession and make an arrest. You do not contact the Korean consulate. Does the confession stand? The court in State of Ohio v. Oh says yes. Although the terms of the Vienna Convention require an individual who is detained by authorities in a foreign country to be notified of his right to assistance and consultation from the consulate, failure to notify a suspect is not grounds for suppression. This is because the exclusionary rule only applies to constitutional rights, not rights created by treaties. State of Ohio v. Oh, First Appellate District, Hamilton County, Nov. 8, 2013
Oops, I forgot to tell you about Miranda. On patrol, you notice a vehicle towing a trailer with an expired sticker. You run the plate you find there is a warrant out for the owner in another county. You ask dispatch to make contact with that county. You make the stop, ask the driver to exit the vehicle, search him, cuff him, arrest him, and place him in your cruiser. The officer from the other county arrives and tells you he has been trying to serve a warrant on this guy in a domestic violence with a handgun investigation. You both walk over to the suspect and ask him about the gun. He tells you the gun is in the truck. Does the statement about the gun get suppressed? The court in Jones-Bateman says yes. It determined that Jones-Bateman was under arrest at the time of the question and any answer to the question would likely elicit an incriminating response. Once a person has been restrained by police, officers are not authorized to initiate questioning without giving Miranda warnings. State of Ohio v. Jones-Bateman, Sixth Appellate District, Wood County, Oct. 25, 2013