February 20, 2015 By Paul Wallin

Can You Be Convicted of Eavesdropping on a Public Conversation?

Privacy is an inalienable right held to the highest regard by the State of California. In 1967, California enacted the “Invasion of Privacy Act” in order to protect this right. The legislature criminalized unauthorized privacy invasion by using electronic devices to eavesdrop on confidential conversations by passing Penal Code 632. As technology advances and becomes more commonplace, so will PC 632 arrests.

Can a Conversation in Public Be Confidential?

The eavesdropping attorneys at Wallin & Klarich can help you fight your charges.
Are you being accused of eavesdropping on a private conversation?

Listening to a conversation may be considered a crime regardless of whether the conversation took place in public or private. ‘Confidential’ for purposes of PC 632 means there is an objectively reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, suppose there are two parties meeting at a hotel to discuss a possible settlement to an employment dispute. You are the plaintiff in the lawsuit and you happen to notice that the CEO of your old employer and their attorney are sitting at a table in the hotel café. You sit down with your back turned to the table next to them and start recording the conversation. Even though the conversation took place in public, the circumstances suggest confidentiality.

By contrast, in the same scenario above, let’s say instead that you are in a bathroom stall while the same conversation occurs outside the stall near the sinks in the restroom. Even if you record the conversation, it is less likely to be considered criminal based on the circumstances.

You Could Be Charged with Eavesdropping on a Conversation in Public

In certain circumstances, if you listen to a conversation intended to be private in a public place, it will be a crime. Communications made in public gatherings, legislative, judicial, executive, or administration hearings are not subject to criminal liability under PC 632, even if the conversation was intended to be private. However, they may be inadmissible in court if one later tries to use the recording as evidence.

Similarly, government eavesdropping is immune from criminal privacy invasion, although depending on the technology used, there can be other legal consequences and constitutional concerns. 1 The skilled criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich know the law and know how to fight these charges.

Eavesdropping (PC 632)

PC 632 violations can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by a $2,500 fine and up to 364 days in jail. If convicted of a felony, you could face up to three years in prison and a $2,500 fine. In order to be convicted, the prosecution must prove that:

  • (1) The eavesdropping was intentional;
  • (2) At least one party to the conversation did not give you permission to listen;
  • (3) The conversation must be meant to be confidential reasonably clear from the circumstances; and
  • (4) You used an electronic amplifying or recording device to listen into or record the conversation. 2

Our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich know the legal defenses to this crime. Some defenses our attorneys could use to defend you against these charges include:

  • The eavesdropping was accidental;
  • The conversation took place in a public forum;
  • All parties to the conversation consented.

Call the Eavesdropping Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich

If you or a loved one has been charged with violating PC 632 you need to contact an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately.

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Our criminal defense attorneys can help you now.

At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending clients facing criminal charges for over 40 years. We will meet with you immediately to review the facts of your case, and plan a defense strategy that will help you get the very best outcome possible.

With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. [Kyllo v. U.S. (2001) 533 U.S. 27 [121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94]]
2. [Pen. Code § 632]

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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