According to the New York Times, individuals who are incarcerated in New York for domestic abuse (or incarcerated for being suspected of domestic abuse) are increasingly having their phone conversations – the ones that they have while incarcerated – taped and used against them in court. Often, the entire domestic violence case rests on the taped phone calls from jail.
Is this fair or unfair? Richard Brown, the Queens district attorney, says that there is no issue of fairness because the inmates were informed that their phone conversations were being taped, and they still said things to incriminate themselves. There are even signs posted in city jails informing inmates that their calls are being taped. But, for one reason or another, abusers cannot help but to talk about their behavior. Not surprisingly, abusers, even continue to intimidate their victims behind bars.
The specific instances mentioned by the New York Times seem shocking, but they are characteristic of abusers. One abuser instructed his victim to tell the prosecutor, “It was just a misunderstanding.” Another male abuser told his girlfriend to prepare their children to “start lying” about an incident in which he burned her face with a hot iron while their children were watching. Other abusers resort to using terms of endearment to convince their victims not to speak to the district attorney.
The New York Times reports that 75% of female victims of domestic violence stop helping prosecutors after having a conversation with the inmate who abused them. Recorded telephone conversations help prosecutors overcome this common hurdle. These phone conversations serve as a “fly on the wall,” giving the government the information they need to convict abusers. Even without a cooperating witness (the victim), the recorded telephone conversations show WHY those victims are not cooperating, which (thankfully) harms the abuser’s case even more.
To most people, it seems as if domestic violence-charged inmates are making a foolish mistake. But, the truth of the matter is that they cannot help themselves from using their abusive tactics to attempt to get the case against them dropped. Abusers are “masters of manipulation” who are often in constant contact with their victims. The attempts that abusers make at coercing their victims become the primary tools prosecutors use to convict those abusers.
New York’s use of recorded jail phone conversations is not as prevalent in other states. It is foreseeable that some convicted abusers will challenge the constitutionality of having their phone conversations used against them. However, in the meantime, it is reassuring to know that abusers are being stopped dead in their tracks from avoiding a domestic violence conviction.