Recording Police In Michigan

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:


Any person who willfully uses any device to overhear or record a conversation without the consent of all parties is guilty of illegal eavesdropping, whether or not they were present for the conversation. Illegal eavesdropping can be punished as a felony carrying a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to $2,000. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539c.

In addition, any individual who divulges information he knows, or reasonably should know, was obtained through illegal eavesdropping is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to two years and a fine of up to $2,000. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539e. Civil liability for actual and punitive damages also are sanctioned. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539h.

The eavesdropping statute has been interpreted by one court as applying only to situations in which a third party has intercepted a communication. This interpretation allows a participant in a conversation to record that conversation without the permission of other parties. Sullivan v. Gray, 324 N.W.2d 58 (Mich. Ct. App. 1982).

The state Supreme Court stated in a July 1999 ruling that a participant in a conversation “may not unilaterally nullify other participants’ expectations of privacy by secretly broadcasting the conversation” and that the overriding inquiry should be whether the parties “intended and reasonably expected that the conversation was private.” Therefore, it is likely that a recording party may not broadcast a recorded conversation without the consent of all parties. Dickerson v. Raphael, 601 N.W.2d 108 (Mich. 1999).

It is a felony to observe, photograph or eavesdrop on a person in a private place without the person’s consent. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539d. A private place is a place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from intrusion or surveillance, but not a place where the public has access. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.539a.

Additionally, the Court of Appeals of Michigan held in 2006 that neither the secretary to a school district superintendent who allegedly circulated a facsimile sent to the superintendent, nor those who saw the facsimile, were liable under the state eavesdropping statute, since the facsimile machine was not used to record or access the messages sent to the superintendent. Vollmar v. Laura, 2006 WL 1008995 (Mich. Ct. App. 2006) (Unreported).

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