FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A Denver-based attorney is fighting in court after calls with his client were recorded at the Larimer County Detention Center. He's now filed a motion he said could have broader implications for the criminal justice system in Colorado.
Jason Flores-Williams is representing Ramon Sepulveda, who was arrested last year in Larimer County on charges of drug trafficking and he's been held on $500,000 bond.
Flores-Williams said he recently learned that several of his phone calls with Sepulveda were recorded since they took place over the jail telephone line, and he's now filed the motion in response to the issue.
“Jail was never meant to be a discovery tool for the prosecution,” Flores-Williams said. “The folks recording the line are very often— as they are in Larimer County — the investigating law enforcement officers who are integral to prosecuting the defendant who is being held there.”
Flores-Williams argued this is a violation of both Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure and Sixth Amendment rights to privileged legal counsel. He is now fighting to ensure the recorded calls will not be used against his client, as well as to end all jail phone recordings between an attorney and client.
The Larimer County District Attorney, who is pursuing prosecution of Sepulveda, contends the entire matter is Flores-Williams’ fault. The jail in Larimer County operates a second, non-recorded line for attorney calls.
“As soon as law enforcement learned of Mr. Flores-Williams’ carelessness, they worked to mitigate his mistakes,” a spokesperson with the sheriff's office said. “The judge did not request any further action, and we consider the matter finished.”
Flores-Williams’s rebuttal is that the separate attorney line is not always in operation and goes down several times each day during meals, shift changes and lockdowns, which Denver7 confirmed with the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office.
Flores-Williams said this all points to a broader problem in Colorado's criminal justice system with law enforcement agencies charging individuals with crimes and then holding the suspects on high bonds in jails they operate until trial.
“It’s a fox guarding the henhouse situation,” Flores-Williams said.
Ian Farrell, a professor of law at the University of Denver, agreed that it is a broad, systemic problem — one that intertwines with other abuses within the criminal justice system.
“You have situations where people will be in jail for a longer period of time than they would have spent in prison if they were convicted,” Farrell said. “There are massive problems associated with this that connect with the problem of the phone calls, which I agree is a very serious problem in and of itself."
“We need to have a mechanism that disincentivizes police and prosecutors from violating the rights even when someone is potentially guilty," he added. "Otherwise, there’s nothing to prevent them from violating all of our rights, including those of us who may be innocent.”
The phone lines at the Larimer County Detention Center disclose the fact they are being recorded. Because of this, Farrell said it will be up to the court to decide if it was reasonable for Flores-Williams and his client to expect privacy during their calls.
The prosecution provided a log of the recorded calls at a hearing on the defense motion in March but had not been requested to provide the recordings themselves at that time.
Sepulveda’s trial is set for June.