Do Ankle Bracelets Have Microphones?

by | Nov 06, 2019 | Criminal Defense

Sometimes, as a part of your probation requirement, you’ll be required to wear an electronic monitor on your ankle. The ankle bracelet transmits a wireless signal that allows the state to keep an eye on your location. If you exceed the boundaries of your house arrest, the company keeping an eye on your monitor will notify the police.

So, ankle bracelets track your location. But are they also capable of recording and/or transmitting what’s being said inside your house? Do ankle bracelets in California have microphones? If so, is it legal for the state to eavesdrop on you while you’re under house arrest? Here’s what you need to know.

Your Ankle Monitor Might Have a Microphone

It’s true. Your ankle bracelet might have a microphone. Why? The primary reason is so that your probation officer and other law enforcement officials can identify you from a remote location.

However, not all GPS ankle monitors have a built-in microphone. Some do, and some don’t. The feature varies from monitor to monitor and from company to company.

If Your Ankle Bracelet Has a Microphone, The State Can’t Use it to Eavesdrop

House arrest – as an alternative to jail –  is permissible under California Penal Code Section 1203.016 PC. You might be able to secure house arrest if you’ve been charged with a non-violent crime, such as theft or a drug offense.

Under 1203.016 PC, the defendant and the state have to follow certain rules. Defendants, for example, must “agree to the use of electronic monitoring, which may include Global Positioning System devices or other supervising devices for the purpose of helping to verify his or her compliance with the rules and regulations of the home detention program.

In other words, you have to agree to wear an ankle bracelet while you’re on house arrest.

The state also has to agree not to eavesdrop on you with your GPS monitoring device. Section 1203.016(a)(3) explicitly states that ankle bracelet “devices shall not be used to eavesdrop or record any conversation, except a conversation between the participant and the person supervising the participant which is to be used solely for the purposes of voice identification.”

So, it’s against the law for the state to use the built-in microphone to do anything other than verify your identity. Any other conduct would likely be a violation of your 4th Amendment and possibly 5th Amendment rights.

Ankle Monitors Can Potentially Record Defendants Without Consent

In recent years, many jurisdictions have begun to use more sophisticated GPS ankle monitors. Old models didn’t have microphones or a lot of features. They simply allowed the state to keep track of a defendant’s GPS location.

New models, however, tend to have microphones. How do they work? The microphone and speaker are activated remotely. Before those turn on, the ankle bracelet emits a sound and vibrates. That provides a warning to the defendant who’s wearing it. Shortly after that, they and anyone they’re with are being recorded.

Even though state law prohibits those microphones from being used to infringe on a defendant’s privacy, there are several concerns about these devices. Many believe that this recording capability is a clear violation of a defendant’s rights. There are also concerns that the microphones could activate without warning, potentially recording a defendant who’s having incriminating conversations or private discussions with their criminal defense lawyer.

Despite these concerns, there haven’t been any reported cases – in Los Angeles or elsewhere in the country – where the states has abused a bracelet’s microphone feature. Again, if you have an ankle monitor, it may or may not have the ability to record you. It depends on which monitor the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has decided to use.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.