Evidence from Recorded Communications by 911 Operator

PE - Bus Dispatcher MTA_1041

PE - Bus Dispatcher MTA_1041 (Photo credit: Metro Transportation Library and Archive)

This is an interesting case regarding wireless communication interception by a 911 operator.  The case deals with chapter 934 which should be required reading for all graduating high school students and anyone getting married (not to mention lawyers).  It seems that I’ve copied the entire opinion – I have not.  The full opinion goes into the legislative history that supports the decision.

PERDUE v. STATE, 37 Fla. L. Weekly D305b (Fla 1st DCA, Feb 2, 2012) – Perdue raises two issues in this direct appeal of his convictions and sentences: 1) that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress an audio recording made by a 911 dispatcher, and 2) that section 893.13, Florida Statutes, is facially unconstitutional. We affirm the second issue without further comment based on Flagg v. State, 74 So. 3d 138 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011), and we reverse the first issue for the reasons that follow.

On January 17, 2010, a dispatcher with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, received a 911 call from a woman reporting a disturbance occurring at her daughter’s house next door. The woman gave the dispatcher the telephone number for that residence, and the dispatcher called the number to see if anyone there needed police assistance. After the line was answered, the dispatcher heard screaming and yelling in the background. No one said anything on the line; the line was simply open, and the dispatcher could hear a male threaten to shoot everyone in the house and himself. This call was recorded. Perdue moved to suppress the recording of the outgoing 911 call. He argued that the recording violated section 934.01(4), Florida Statutes (2009), and his right to privacy. After a hearing at which only the 911 operator testified, the trial court denied the motion. The court determined that the recording fell within the exception in section 934.03(2)(g)2, which the court broadly construed to allow an emergency agency to intercept and record any wire communication in order to acquire necessary information to render aid and assistance.

Section 934.03 prohibits the intentional interception and disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications without the parties’ consent or court authorization. However, an employee of an agency operating an emergency 911 system may lawfully intercept and record

incoming wire communications on designated “911” telephone numbers and published nonemergency telephone numbers staffed by trained dispatchers at public safety answering points only. It is also lawful for such employee to intercept and record outgoing wire communications to the numbers from which such incoming wire communications were placed when necessary to obtain information required to provide the emergency services being requested.

§ 934.03(2)(g)2, Fla. Stat. (2009) (emphasis added).

Communications intercepted in violation of Chapter 934, Florida Statutes, are not admissible in judicial proceedings, subject to a limited exception not applicable here. See § 934.06, Fla. Stat. (2009). Accordingly, as the trial court recognized, the disposition of the motion to suppress turns on whether the recording of the outgoing 911 call falls within the exception in section 934.03(2)(g)2.

The plain language of section 934.03(2)(g)2 allows emergency agencies to record only (1) incoming 911 calls, and (2) outgoing call-backs by the 911 dispatcher to the number from which the incoming call was placed when the call-back is necessary to obtain information required for emergency assistance. The statute does not allow other outgoing calls by the 911 dispatcher to be recorded without the consent of the person being called, even if the outgoing call is in reference to or relates to an incoming 911 call.

The Attorney General reached the same conclusion in Advisory Opinion No. 2002-56. There, the Attorney General was asked whether an employee of a municipal police department may record “an outgoing call made in reference to the recorded incoming call, if the outgoing call is made on the same line on which the incoming call is received.” See Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 2002-56 (2002). The Attorney General answered that “[a]n outgoing call may be recorded only when it is made to the telephone number from which an emergency assistance request call was made in order to obtain information required to provide the emergency services being requested or when a called party gives permission for the call to be recorded.” Id.

Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, we reverse the denial of the motion to suppress.

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