How do you feel about the D.A.’s office in Oakland surreptitiously taping a defendant’s jail-house telephone calls in order to strengthen its case against her. In early October, the Court of Appeals upheld a murder conviction against Christine Loyd; however, the justices castigated the Alameda County District Attorney’s office for directly defying a state Supreme Court ruling on this very issue. This case stemmed from the 1991 murder of Myrtle Loyd, the mother of the defendant and the 1994 murder of Virginia Bailey, a family friend. Christine Loyd was convicted of murdering both, the motive being financial.
In the state of California, one cannot tape a telephone conversation unless both parties agree; however, police officers are able to get permission from judges to wiretap conversations under certain circumstances. Here, the police department was not involved; rather, the District Attorney’s office, on its own and without permission from the court, ordered jailers to tape-record Loyd’s outgoing telephone calls after she was arrested for the 1994 murder of Virginia Bailey. In this case, the D. A.’s office acknowledged that this taping was not done for security purposes – taping for security purposes is permissible, but the office was forthright enough to acknowledge that it was done for the purpose of gathering evidence with which to prosecute Christine Loyd. In a 2-to-1 vote, the appellate court decided that this behavior violated the law in that “prisoners retain the rights of free persons, including the right of privacy, except when security and public safety is threatened.”
The good news here is that the court blasted the D.A.’s office. The bad news is that by a 2-to-1 vote, the court decided to not overturn Christine Loyd’s conviction. I much prefer the reasoning of the dissenting judge who voted to give Ms. Loyd a new trial as he took the Alameda County D.A.’s office to task for deciding to “willfully ignore the dictates of the law on the basis that he or she can ignore it with impunity to gain a conviction.” It looks like the next stop will be the State Supreme Court.
The problem here goes beyond this one situation in that it is apparently common knowledge in the county of Alameda that surrepititious jailhouse taping is commonplace. In other words, the Alameda County D.A.’s office is knowingly, and on a regular basis, violating the rights of people who are accused of crimes and are in jail. Not only is this clearly and obviously improper, it also discriminates against the poor for those who cannot afford to post bail are in a situation where their telephone calls are going to be taped while those who have the money and are able to post bail and come home will not risk giving the D.A.’s office evidence through their telephone calls.
More importantly to those of you reading this column, the key question becomes, is this going on in Los Angeles county? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I have to admit, the thought of it frightens me. No one here is in favor of murder or people committing murder and getting away with it; however, our justice system comes with rules that need to be adhered to by both sides. When any entity on behalf of the prosecution decides it is, in effect, above the law and that it does not need to seek a judge’s blessing in order to tape-record telephone calls, it is giving itself a great deal more power than the Legislature and the Constitution has deemed appropriate.
My hope is that the D.A.’s office in Alameda County gets it together and that if this is being done in Los Angeles, that the practice be abolished immediately.