I'm hoping to get some insights about the legality of hiring a witness to gather evidence.

This person would be an unaffiliated third-party that simply listens in on a co-worker conversation from an adjacent cafe table, in hopes of catching an admission of guilt.

There's no case, unless the co-worker provides an admission of guilt (e.g. "Yeah, I gave you an impossible deadline so you would fail and give big boss a reason to can you.").

My goal is simply to get a witness-signed transcript of the conversation, as someone told me it's almost impossible to legally record people in California with electronic devices.

Is it legal to hire someone to witness this or do they need legal credentials? Could I be exposed to any liabilities? ... Any gotchas?

My alternative is to pay a detective, which would be more expensive, and if I need to pay one to show up in court, it would also be more pricey.

  • 7
    One obvious issue is that this witness might not have much credibility in court, as a judge or jury may think they have a conflict of interest due to being paid by one party to the case. Sep 14 '19 at 22:03
  • 8
    Incidentally, if you really think this has a chance of becoming a legal case, talk to a lawyer before trying any stunts like this. (The people on this site are mostly not lawyers, and certainly not your lawyers.) Sep 14 '19 at 22:07
  • John - That's a good point about the role of security. Also makes me think of public notaries, who would seem to be doing a very similar thing, in essence. I can see how Nate's point might come into play, but I also see that if there's no other relation to the person hired, in a one-off capacity, then it might be difficult to make the case that they'd be willing to state anything but the truth. Thank you both for your insights.
    – Brian FWD
    Sep 16 '19 at 19:57

This is a fairly old question, and you may very well have burnt yourself in the act, but in case others find it, let it be said: Hiring someone to "overhear a conversation from an adjacent table" may very well end you up in jail.

Penal Code § 632 prohibits and orders confidential communications to be, not only recorded, but overheard. Now, of course, if you go into a café where many people speak, and then you put that guy in there, it might work out. If you have a contract with the person you want to record and this is the means you are trying to obtain the advantages of the contract, this may still pose civil liability in case the other party is harmed.

They may very well claim a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

However, it is far from "impossible" to legally record a conversation.

In detail regarding the legality of recording and monitoring confidential communications, please take a look at this answer of mine:

Here's a link to it: Can phone conversations be used in court as defense?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.