Crisis Center Calls Not Privileged in Terrorism Prosecution
A new ruling out of the Michigan Court of Appeals has set a serious precedent for defendants facing charges related to terrorism. Here’s the basic breakdown: An individual called a mental health hotline and spent around 80 minutes on the phone with an emergency services specialist. During the call, the individual made specific threats of violence. After the call concluded, the specialist reported the call to 911 operators.
The individual was charged with one count of threat of terrorism (based on the call) and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (discovered at arrest). Part of the prosecution’s case then relied on testimony from the emergency services specialist who took the call as well as recordings from the call itself. Later in the process, a circuit court granted the defendant’s request to exclude the testimony of this specialist and the call recording on the grounds that both represented privileged information.
The prosecutor in the case then challenged this ruling, and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed that the privilege normally present in these types of calls was lost when the defendant made threats of violence against identifiable third party targets. In other words, there is no privileged information when it comes to specific threats that might reasonably be carried out. If you’re facing prosecution for a threat-of-terrorism charge, it’s vitally important that you speak with a Van Buren County criminal attorney to protect your privileged conversations and to be fully aware of your rights.
It’s also worth noting that the court reminded the defendant that he has full control over waiving privilege on his communications should he wish to introduce them as evidence in his defense. The threats and context surrounding them are considered admissible regardless due to the specific way in which they interact with threat-of-terrorism laws.