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Would the Government actually bug the courthouse grounds to eavesdrop on private conversations?

Answer:

Yes, they would, and they did just this by secretly installing microphones in at least three locations outside a California courthouse in 2009 and 2010. A motion was recently filed by criminal defendants who are seeking to prevent the use of hundreds of hours of recorded conversations as evidence against them. With the go-ahead from the Department of Justice and FBI lawyers, the government made the warrantless recordings with electronic bugs hidden in a planter, a wall-mounted metal sprinkler box and vehicles parked near an entrance to the courthouse. This violates a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights of a reasonable expectation of privacy. Or does it? Your home, your car, your lawyer's office are all private places. Are places that are open to the public (even if you think they're private) really private?

While the bugs were placed in public places, they were strategically put in places immediately outside the courthouse, where the government knew they would pick up on conversations between defendants, family members, witnesses, and their lawyers. People's expectation that discreet conversations outside a courthouse would remain private is surely one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. Private affairs are routinely discussed as citizens, their lawyers and even judges walk to and from court. Lawyers often take clients aside outside the courthouse (or in the courthouse hallways) for privileged conversations. Common experience and everyday expectations teach that individuals frequently have private conversations near the courthouse despite the public's access to this location. We expect that such conversations are not subject to the types of dragnet electronic eavesdropping that took place in these instances. The court has not yet ruled on whether or not to admit these recorded conversations against the various defendants (my bet is that they'll be excluded, that is, thrown out).

Lesson Learned:

Watch out! This is a new low for law enforcement...but it teaches a valuable lesson. The Feds will stretch common sense and the law in order to get convictions. So never talk with your lawyer or others just outside the courthouse anymore - even though it's a common practice. You never know who might be listening in. Both the federal and state courthouses in Jacksonville, Florida have very nice private conference rooms for lawyers and their clients to use - so take advantage of them, and don't talk about your case in open, public places. Or go to your lawyer's office to discuss confidential matters.

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