JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CN) – Police violated the constitutional rights of an attorney and her client in secretly recording their discussions in an interrogation room and snatching a written statement with enough force to break the lawyer’s fingernail, a federal judge ruled.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office was interviewing Joel Studivant for allegedly violating a domestic violence injunction, but it never told Studivant or his attorney, Anne Marie Gennusa, about a camera in the interrogation room.
While Studivant was writing his statement for an affidavit, Detective Thomas Marmo left the interview room. Studivant and Gennusa then discussed his legal situation further, still unaware of the ongoing surveillance.
After leaving the room to speak with Marmo, the lawyer informed Studivant that the police planned to charge him.
Studivant then decided against turning over the written statement, but Marmo entered the room and forcibly grabbed the statement from underneath Gennusa’s hand.
He then arrested Studivant and attached the statement to the arrest report.
Studivant ultimately ducked the charges by entering into a deferred prosecution agreement, and he filed suit along with Gennusa against Marmo, Sgt. Brian Canova and Sheriff David Shoar.
The sergeant’s name is alternately spelled Cannova in the court’s latest ruling in which the court granted partial summary judgment.
“Marmo’s seizure [of Studivant’s statement] was unreasonable because he did not obtain a warrant and has not argued that any exception to the warrant requirement applied,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan wrote Tuesday. “Moreover, defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity since it would be clear to any reasonable officer that seizing Studivant’s personal papers without a warrant or exception to the warrant requirement was unlawful.”
Corrigan also slammed the officers for secretly recording the interview room.
“Confidential attorney-client communications are the foundation of the attorney-client privilege, ‘the oldest of the privileges for confidential communications known to the common law,'” he wrote.
“Courts have thus held that an expectation of privacy in attorney-client communications is one that society is willing to recognize as reasonable,” the judge added.
Corrigan said that Marmo “fostered an expectation of privacy” in leaving Studivant and Gennusa in the closed interview room
“This is especially true given that people generally believe conversations with their attorneys will be kept privileged and confidential,” the decision states. “It is also objectively reasonable for a suspect to rely on his attorney’s opinions regarding confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege. Gennusa clearly conveyed to Studivant that she believed their conversations were private by providing legal advice, discussing legal strategy (such as whether to provide the written statement to the police), and asking questions regarding the subject of her representation.”
Marmo and Canova are also ineligible for qualified immunity because “their actions violated plaintiffs’ clearly established rights.”
Sheriff Shoar fared better, however, with the court granting summary judgment as to four claims.
“Because the county’s written policy does not itself violate federal law or direct an officer to do so, plaintiffs must show that the policy was adopted with ‘deliberate indifference’ to their constitutional rights,” the decision states. “Plaintiffs, however, have not attempted to make such a showing, and also have failed to establish that the alleged violation of their rights was caused by a custom of St. Johns County.” Corrigan referred the issue of damages and fees to U.S. Magistrate Judge Monte Richardson for a settlement conference.