Would you expect a conversation that you had on the steps of a courthouse to be a private one? One California judge does not think so, as he refused to suppress evidence recorded by devices planted by the FBI.[1] The FBI placed the recording devices at courthouses in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and San Mateo County by the courthouse steps, light fixtures, nearby vehicles, a courthouse bus stop, and even a backpack left by a courthouse statue – all without a warrant.[2] Defense counsel unsuccessfully attempted to suppress the evidence by arguing that the defendants’ Constitutional rights were violated. The defendants, who are also investors, were facing allegations that investors conspired to manipulate real estate auctions.

Generally, a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy when: 1) the person has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy; and 2) that expectation must be one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.[3] Here, U.S. District Chief Judge Phyllis Hamilton said “the defendants had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the conversations. . . .[a]s a result, there was no violation of the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights.”[4] She stated that it would be “unrealistic for anyone to believe that open public behavior including conversations can be private given that there are video cameras on many street corners, storefronts and front porches, and in the hand of nearly every person who owns a smart phone.”[5]

The determination of whether a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred based on the reasonable expectation of privacy can differ in each factual scenario. If you or someone you know has evidence being used against you or them that may have been obtained unlawfully, call a competent civil rights attorney immediately to determine your rights. Remember – most evidence obtained unlawfully can be excluded from trial.


By Ara M. Baghdassarian, Esq., Barnes Law

Ara is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.




[3] Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967); https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/389/347


[5] For more about the “Reasonable Expectation of Privacy,” see my previous post [http://www.barneslawllp.com/reasonable-expectation-privacy/]