Friday, July 22, 2005
S.C. Upholds Eavesdropping on Suspects’ Jailhouse Conversations
Security Needs Trump Privacy, Even Where No Charges Have Been Filed, Kennard Says for Unanimous Court
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they tape-recorded the conversations of three murder suspects in their holding cells at the West Los Angeles police station, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The ruling came as justices unanimously affirmed the first degree murder conviction and death sentence of Stanley Bernard Davis in a highly publicized 1985 murder case. Davis and the other two men were convicted of killing two college students in a robbery near the UCLA campus.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing for the court, said that pretrial detainees, like sentenced inmates, lack a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to their conversations. She also agreed that even if good cause was required to eavesdrop on the conversations, officers was entitled to listen in to determine whether there was a threat to the safety of the fourth alleged participant, who was cooperating with police and eventually testified for the prosecution under a grant of immunity.
Davis, a onetime gang member from South-Central Los Angeles, was 23 years old when UCLA freshman Michelle Anne Boyd, 19, and California State University- Northridge sophomore Brian Edward Harris, 20, were abducted near the UCLA campus and shot to death.
The two had been dating since attending Thousand Oaks High School together.
The immunized witness, DeAndre Brown, testified that he, Davis, Damon L. Redmond, and Donald Bennett wanted to steal Harris’ car so they could drive to Barstow to commit a robbery. Brown quoted Davis as saying that he shot the victims to eliminate witnesses.
Brown said the men confronted the couple near Boyd’s apartment in Westwood on Sept. 30, 1985, forced Harris into the trunk of his Honda, and drove the couple to a secluded field off Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains, where Davis shot each of them in the head at close range .
The jailhouse tapes also tied Davis to the crimes and included statements by Redmond that he had been asked 12 times by the police whether Davis was the shooter. Davis’ non-denial in response was allowed in evidence as an admission.
Redmond was tried separately, convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to 53 years to life in prison. Bennett pled guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 18 years to life.
Prior to Davis’ trial, Judge Leslie W. Light rejected the defense challenge to the admission of tape recordings of conversations among Davis, Redmond, and Bennett in the holding cells.
At the hearing on the suppression motion, a detective testified that he monitored and taped the conversations because he needed to know whether there was any danger to Brown, who was cooperating at that point.
Also testifying was Richard Neidorf, a deputy district attorney at the time of the taping and now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge. Neidorf, who was at the station to draft search warrants in the case, said he told the officers to tape the suspects in order to gather information about the case, whether it incriminated or exculpated a particular suspect.
Light found that the taping served both an evidence-gathering and a witness-protection function and denied the motion to suppress.
Lots of Authority
Kennard, writing yesterday for the high court, noted that there is a long line of California authority supporting the recording of prisoners’ conversations and rejected the argument that Davis had an expectation of privacy because he was a mere detainee who had not yet been charged.
Acknowledging a split of authority on the issue, Kennard concluded that pretrial detainees have no expectation of privacy because the same security needs that have been held to justify eavesdropping on sentenced prisoners, as well as searches of their cells and persons, apply to detainees.
The justice also rejected the claim that Davis had an expectation of privacy under the former language of the Prisoners’ Bill of Rights, a statute which held at the time that inmates could “be deprived of such rights, and only such rights, as . . . necessary . . . to provide for the reasonable security of the institution . . . and for the reasonable protection of the public.”
The argument was based on DeLancie v. Superior Court, (1982) 31 Cal.3d 865, which held that the statute precluded recording the conversations of either detainees or sentenced prisoners for reasons other than jail security or protection of the public. But Kennard reasoned that since DeLancie permitted eavesdropping, albeit under limited circumstances, Davis could not have had any reasonable expectation of privacy.
“It is the fact that an intrusion may occur, not the reason for the intrusion, that vitiates the expectation of privacy,” the justice wrote. And in any event, she noted, the trial judge did find that the eavesdropping took place, at least in part, for security reasons.
In addition to the crimes against Harris and Boyd, Davis was convicted of of a robbery and kidnapping that occurred the year before the murders.
The victim of that crime, David Kingsmill, had been unable to identify the perpetrators. Davis, who was arrested in possession of the victim’s car—which had been taken from him at gunpoint near UCLA—pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unlawful taking and served a two-month jail sentence.
He was subsequently tied to the robbery and kidnapping of Kingsmill by Brown, who said Davis admitted his involvement.
Kennard concluded yesterday that prosecution of Davis for the robbery and kidnapping of Kingsmill, after he had pled guilty and been sentenced for taking his car, did not constitute double jeopardy or multiple punishment for the same crime.
Given Kingsmill’s inability to identify his assailants, it would have been impossible to try Davis for robbery or kidnapping at the time of the misdemeanor plea, the justice explained, so the ban on multiple punishments for the same crime set forth in Penal Code Sec. 654 does not apply.
The case is People v. Davis, S012945.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company