Wiretapping in Pennsylvania: What to Know Before You Turn On the Recorder

By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney

You proudly march into your attorney’s office, put a shiny smart phone down on the desk, and hit play. You beam as the devices plays back a recording that you think just might solve all of your legal problems. The recording is great: due to your stealth recording, the other side just admitted to everything- on tape. So, why is your attorney’s face so grave? The reason why your attorney may not be sharing your excitement is because he/she is about to tell you something that might come as a surprise: making that recording could be a crime, punishable by fines, probation, and even jail time.

The Basics- Wiretapping in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, intercepting certain types of electronic communications, and even certain types of in-person oral communications by use of a recording device is a felony, punishable by up to 7 years in jail. Intercepting can, and often does, include the use of recording devices to record ordinary, in-person conversations.* It is not uncommon for people to unknowingly run afoul of this law while attempting to gather their own evidence in legal cases, and it is even possible to violate this law if you are trying to record information that may help law enforcement. The law in this area is very complex, and the only way to know the difference between lawful and unlawful recordings is with the help of an experienced attorney who is knowledgeable in this area of law.

Does That Mean I can Never Record a Conversation?
This does not mean that it is never okay to record the contents of a conversation, but it is wise to seek the advice of an attorney first. Attorneys often help clients to come up with safe and legal ways to record communications, whether to aide a legal case or otherwise. For example, a criminal law attorney may help a client involved in a difficult domestic situation lawfully record conversations to rebut future allegations. However, it is important that any such action is taken only with the advice of an experienced attorney, knowledgeable in wiretapping law and its application in Pennsylvania. Guessing at the law in this area could be very dangerous, and those who do so run the risk of serious felony charges.
I am Being Accused of Unlawful Wiretapping- What Should I Do?
If you are accused, whether by the police or anyone else, of any violations of the wiretapping law, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. As with any criminal allegation, you need an attorney who both understands this complex area of law and has experience advising people accused of or charged with crimes in Pennsylvania. Whether you have been charged or not, it is important to consult with an attorney right away.

*Examples are not intended as legal advice. Only an attorney with knowledge of your situation can advise you on whether a given action would be a crime.

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