“Butt Dials” Aren’t Private, Federal Court Rules

Calling someone accidentally by inadvertently pressing a button (or touch screen) on a cell phone can be a nuisance, but so-called “butt-dialing” is something we’ve all done at one point or another. Most of the time, the call is cancelled or otherwise ended and no issues arise.
But other times, as our West Palm Beach and Hollywood criminal defense lawyers know, the call is recorded and the content of the call is used against the person who made the call. Such a situation was at issue in the case of Huff v. Spaw (2015), which we will explore in this blog post. In the case, a federal court ruled that your butt dials aren’t private.

Specifically, if you butt dial someone and they hear you on the other end disclosing certain information, that information can be used against you. According to the federal judge presiding over the case, cell phone owners know the dangers of butt dialing and should take precautions to prevent it from happening; if they fail to take such precautions, it’s their own fault.

Essentially, the case involved James Huff, former chairman of the board of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Int’l Airport and Carol Spaw, who was the assistant to the board’s (former) CEO Candace McGraw. Court documents show that Huff accidentally dialed Spaw’s phone. On the 91-minute inadvertent phone call, Huff had a conversation (with someone else on the board) about the possibility of replacing McGraw as CEO. Huff, of course, did not know that Spaw was listening to the conversation as well as taking notes and recording portions of the call. (Spaw eventually typed-up her notes, put the recorded audio onto a thumb drive, and gave the evidence to some members of the board at the airport.)

A couple of months later, at the end of 2013, James Huff wound up suing Carol Spaw, alleging that she violated a federal law which makes illegal the willful interception of either oral or electronic communication. The district court in the initial case ruled in favor of Spaw; Huff then appealed, and late last month, the judge in that federal appeals court, Judge Danny Boggs ruled in favor of Spaw, reaffirming the district court’s decision.

Basically, as our West Palm Beach and Hollywood criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know, Boggs ruled that what you say over cellular telephone lines is fair game for the listener to use against you — even (and this is the key part) if you didn’t know anyone was listening (i.e., if you didn’t know you had made the call).

Our West Palm Beach and Hollywood criminal defense lawyers know that this ruling has serious implications for everyone with cell phones — in other words, hundreds of millions of people in this country. It is imperative that you keep your cell phone OFF or in a non-usable mode when it is in your pocket, purse, etc. A cell phone should only be able to make calls when you intend for it to do so. If you make an inadvertent phone call, you run the risk of whatever you say (to the person on the other end of the phone call or otherwise) being used against you.

If you have any questions about this truly important ruling, or any other criminal defense issues, or if you have been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward and/or Miami-Dade County, please contact our West Palm Beach and Hollywood criminal defense lawyers at Leifert & Leifert by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to assisting you.

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