Recording a Conversation in California – Penal Code Section 632 PC

California’s Recording a Conversation Law, commonly known as the “wiretapping law,” “recording a phone call law,” or “eavesdropping law” addresses whether recording a conversation is legal in California. California Penal Code Section 632 PC makes it a crime for any person to record another person’s conversation, including those made during phone calls, without first obtaining the party’s consent to do so. So, if you were wondering whether recording a phone call is illegal in California? The answer is: yes, in California, it is illegal to record any person’s conversation without their consent to do so.

Having said that, although it is unlawful to record private conversations between parties, it does not apply to public communications. For example, if you were giving a speech, the law does not prohibit another person from recording the speech. Also, it is important to note that this law does not apply to law enforcement personnel who record conversations to obtain evidence of criminal activity.

For example, if you’re having coffee at Starbucks and a patron sitting at the table next to you records your conversation with your girlfriend, he could be charged with and convicted of violating penal code section 632 PC. However, if it was a police officer recording the conversation to gather evidence against you, he would not be in violation of California’s eavesdropping law.

In California, recording a conversation (eavesdropping) can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the egregiousness of the defendant’s conduct, as well as the defendant’s criminal record.

A conviction of this crime can result in a maximum of one-year imprisonment in California State Prison, as well as a fine of up to $2,500 for a first-time offense. So, if you have been charged with eavesdropping in violation of PC 632, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at The H Law Group to defend you and keep you from going to jail or prison for a very long period of time.

Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to achieve the best possible results for you. Schedule your free consultation today by filling out the contact form below or by calling us at 1 (213) 370-0404.

Text of California Penal Code Section 632 PC – California’s Eavesdropping Law

According to California Penal Code Section 632 PC, “A person who, intentionally and without the consent of all parties to a confidential communication, uses an electronic amplifying or recording device to eavesdrop upon or record the confidential communication, whether the communication is carried on among the parties in the presence of one another or by means of a telegraph, telephone, or other devices, except a radio, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) per violation, or imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison, or by both that fine and imprisonment. If the person has previously been convicted of a violation of this section or Section 631, 632.5, 632.6, 632.7, or 636, the person shall be punished by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) per violation, by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”

Summary: Penal Code 632 PC makes it a crime for any person to record a confidential conversation between two or more persons without the other persons’ permission. This applies to conversations that are had in person, over the phone, via Texas message, or others means. Also, to record a conversation in California, all parties must agree to have their conversation recorded.

Examples of Eavesdropping or Recording a Private/Confidential Conversation

Two employees are bragging out having an affair. A third employee walks into the office while they’re having their conversation and proceeds to listen in. The employee who walked in cannot be convicted of eavesdropping because no device was used to do so. However, if the employee pulls out her phone and records the other two employees having their conversation, she can be charged with and convicted of eavesdropping. Also, if the third employee was sitting across the room and takes out a sound amplification device to listen in on her coworker’s conversation, she could be charged with and convicted of violating penal code section 632 PC.

An employee suspects that her boss is embezzling money from a company on which he serves as a board member. So, the next day, she brings in an old phone and sets it beneath her bosses’ desk to record his conversation. At the end of the day, she retrieves the phone and finds out that she has all the evidence she needs to present to law enforcement to arrest him. The employee can be charged with and convicted of eavesdropping because she recorded a conversation to which her boss did not consent. The fact that she has evidence of her boss committing a crime is not relevant to her case if she’s charged with eavesdropping.

Proving an Individual Guilty of Eavesdropping in Violation of California Penal Code Section 632 PC

For the prosecution to prove an individual guilty of eavesdropping in violation of California Penal Code Section 632 PC, the prosecution must prove a number of elements beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution fails to prove even one element, it will not be able to convict the defendant of eavesdropping. To convict an individual of eavesdropping, it must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant intentionally recorded or used equipment to eavesdrop on the conversation of another person or persons
  • At least one person involved in the conversation did not consent to the recording or eavesdropping on the conversation
  • The conversation is one that is confident, AND
  • The defendant eavesdropped or recorded the conversation using an electronic amplification or recording device

Note: A conversation is confidential if at least one party to the conversation expected the conversation to remain between the members of the conversation. Said differently, if there was an expectation of privacy by one member to the conversation, the conversation is confidential according to the California penal code.

Penalties If You’re Convicted of Recording Another Party’s Conversation

The penalties a person faces to recording another party’s conversation or using an electronic device to eavesdrop depend on whether he or she is charged with misdemeanor eavesdropping or felony eavesdropping.

A first-time offender who commits eavesdropping or records a private conversation can be imprisoned in county jail or State Prison for up to one year, as well as having to pay a fine of up to $2,500. If the defendant has been convicted of eavesdropping in the past, and is convicted of a second offense, he faces up to one year in prison or county jail, as well as payment of a fine of up to $10,000.

Defenses to Eavesdropping & Recording a Private Conversation

If you have been charged with eavesdropping or recording a private conversation, such as recording a phone call or recording a conversation between two people, there are a number of defenses that your criminal defense attorney can make to defend you.

  • The defendant did not have the intent to record or eavesdrop upon the conversation of another person or persons
  • The defendant is a law enforcement officer investigating a suspect
  • All members of the conversation did not care about anyone else hearing their conversation, meaning the conversation is not confidential
  • The defendant did not use an electronic device to record the conversation

Offenses Related to Eavesdropping / Recording Conversations in California

  • California Penal Code Section 631 PC – Wiretapping

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with eavesdropping or recording a private conversation, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you and keep you from going to jail or prison. Our criminal defense attorneys have the knowledge and experience to achieve the best possible results for you. We have defended countless clients, so rest assured that your future is in great hands. Schedule your free consultation today by filling out the contact form below or by calling us at 1 (213) 370-0404.

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