By Jedidiah McKeehan

There may be a time when you make some bad decisions and end up in jail. While there, you may make a phone call to a friend or family member and talk about what happened. Are the police listening to your phone calls? They are.

Let’s unpack this though. If you are in jail for a DUI, you are probably not going to be saying anything in your phone calls that the police actually care about to prove your guilt or innocence (unless you are saying how drunk you are when the cops pulled you over). What they are normally listening for is conversations held by drug dealers. They want to know if there is some grand scheme in place, or if there are other people they should be investigating.

Normally, a phone call may be recorded if one person who is part of the conversation knows the phone call is being recorded. For example, if a divorcing couple wants to record their spouse cussing them out, then they can record the phone call. The police cannot normally listen in on regular phone calls without obtaining permission to perform a wiretap. Without getting too bogged down in the legalese, a wiretap is an extreme measure only permitted after a judge allows it, and the police show there was no less extreme way to obtain the information they were desiring to obtain (this was made famous in the HBO show, “The Wire”).

However, when the phone calls are coming to and from the jail, the police may listen to the calls, simply based on security reasons. They want no one planning an escape or anything being smuggled in to the jail. The same with letters and other mail sent to and from the jail. The police may inspect those items, so why would they not be allowed to monitor phone calls?

So if you find yourself in jail and talking to someone on the outside, do not get in to any specifics about your charges or what led to your arrest. It is very possible that conversation may be used against you. In that vein, if you said something like, “I would accept a sentence of 5 years.” Well, that does not help your position either.

As a criminal defense attorney, I will talk to the police about the case and they will say, “well, they told their dad on the phone they had 5 pounds of cocaine they sold.” And I just shake my head because you have just helped them prove the case against you. If you end up in jail, and you are on the phone, keep it very general. Tell the person you are in jail, and can they contact a bail bondsman about getting you out. If that is not an option, discuss things that are not related to your case. Above all, watch what you say!


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including divorce, custody, criminal, personal injury, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.