Controlled Calls and Their Use by Police in Investigating Crimes

December 4, 2019

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

A man and a woman meet – either in a bar, through a friend, or on a dating app. After a couple of dates, the man and woman engage in sexual intercourse. But afterwards, the woman disappears. She won’t answer the man’s calls or texts. The man doesn’t know what happened. A couple months later, the woman sends a text to the man, seemingly out of the blue. “I’d really like to talk about what happened that last night we were together. I have mixed feelings and I want to clear some things up. Can I call you?”

In this scenario, the woman may be setting the man up to make incriminating statements. If she has alleged to the police that the sexual intercourse was not consensual, her call to him may be part of a criminal investigation. Law enforcement could be listening to the call, recording it, and maybe even prompting the woman as to what to say.

Controlled calls are dangerous. They could lead to potentially damning evidence that could be used against the man in court. His own recorded words could convince a jury that he indeed committed the crime alleged.


What Are Controlled Calls?

A controlled call, sometimes called a pretext call, occurs when police or investigators arrange a phone call between an individual and the target of an investigation. Usually, the individual working with the police is someone whom the target trusts and speaks with frequently.

The individual calls the target, and the conversation is recorded to be later used as evidence against an individual. Depending on the facts of the investigation and the complexity of the case, police may even give the individual a script or tell the individual what to say.

In some cases where there is a lack of corroborating physical or forensic evidence, a controlled call can serve as key evidence. Some states have laws regarding the use of calls or recorded conversations where only one party consents to the recording. In New York, there is no such restriction.


Controlled Calls and the Prosecution of Sex Crimes

Controlled calls can be used in any type of investigation. Often, they are a key piece of evidence in a sex crime prosecution. A controlled call can come days, weeks, or even months after the alleged incident. In fact, some detectives intentionally wait before orchestrating a controlled call. This way, the target may be more willing to speak about the incident based on a false sense of security.

In some cases, the issue isn’t whether sexual contact occurred. The issue is whether it was consensual or not. Thus a controlled call may be a way for an accuser to get the target to make inculpatory statements. For example, in a controlled call, an accuser would be coached by police to say, “Why did you have sex with me after I told you not to?” This gets the target to admit to the sexual contact, while also making it seem like the target knew the accuser said no.

Any phone call from someone accusing you of rape or any non-consensual sexual activity may be a controlled call. Upon such an accusation, you should end the call without admitting anything – not even to consensual contact. You should deny the allegation and end the call as quickly and politely as possible. An apology should not be made, as that will later be characterized as an admission by police and prosecutors. You should also not make any requests to the accuser to avoid going to the police; again, this may seem like consciousness of guilt.


What To Do When You’re Accused

If you’ve received a call from someone accusing you of sexual assault, you should contact a criminal defense attorney. An attorney familiar with sex crimes and sex offender registration will be able to discuss with you your legal options. Getting an attorney involved as soon as possible may help you not only beat the charges, but perhaps even avoid arrest and prosecution.