Can Phone Calls Made on A Recorded Line From Prison Could Be Used As Evidence To Convict A Defendant?

State v. Townsend

Appellate Docket No.: A-5387-17T4

Decided August 28, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division reviewed whether of phone calls made on a recorded line from prison could be used as evidence to convict a defendant.

In State v. Townsend, after a jury found him guilty of all crimes for which he was indicted, defendant appealed from his convictions and concomitant aggregate sixty-year sentence for first-degree murder,1 N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1) and (2) (count one); third-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39- 4(d) (count two); and fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d) (count three), in connection with the stabbing death of Tyree Kirkpatrick.

According to the trial evidence, Kirkpatrick was the boyfriend of Nakeama Nokes, who had called police to her residence regarding a family dispute. While police were discussing that issue with Nokes, Kirkpatrick entered the home and proceeded to the second floor where defendant, Nokes’s former boyfriend, was asleep in Nokes’s bedroom. After Nokes called defendant’s name, she proceeded to the second floor. Her fourteen-year-old son was also present; contrary to his prior account to police, he testified he saw defendant stab Kirkpatrick.

In the commotion that followed, Kirkpatrick is captured on police bodyworn camera (bodycam) footage saying, “[h]e just stabbed me. I don’t know.” While Camden County Police Officer Michael Herring summoned medical assistance, he saw defendant climbing out of the second-floor window and ordered him back inside. Defendant then ran down the stairs toward the first floor, claiming there was a gunman upstairs. Defendant was taken into custody. While in jail, he placed two telephone calls which were recorded.

Defendant appealed on the basis of the admission at trial of the recorded telephone calls between defendant and two women while he was in jail and the recorded bodycam footage.  The trial judge found the calls were properly placed into evidence, as defendant was clearly discussing details of the murder, while redacting some portions that did not pertain to the incident.

The Appellate Division found that while some additional portions of the call should have been redacted – although defendant did not object to those portions – the bulk of the calls were considered relevant evidence, and did not prejudice the defendant to produce an unjust result.  Therefore, the Appellate Division affirmed defendant’s conviction.

This case is important for one issue – phone calls made to and from prisons and jails in New Jersey are recorded and are ACTIVELY MONITORED.  As clearly seen in this case, anything that is said on these phone lines can be produced and used against you at trial.  Prosecutors and police are always listening to conversations placed to and from prison in order to bolster convictions.  If you or someone you know is sent to prison, make sure nothing is said over the phones until your attorney arrives and speaks with you.

If you have been charged with any, first degree crime, second degree crime, third degree crime, fourth degree crime, disorderly persons offense, municipal ordinance violation, or traffic ticket / DUI/DWI, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Failing to hire a defense attorney and putting your faith in a public defender could give you adverse results.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court and municipal court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to ensure prosecutors, police, and even judges follow the law.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing criminal charges similar to this circumstance, please call us immediately. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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