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Mel Gibson tapes: Are the recordings admissible in court?

It’s hard to imagine how the four recordings of Mel Gibson purportedly screaming obscenities, threats, and offensive epithets to ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva won’t serve as permanent IEDs to his public image. But what about the legal ramifications? The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating Grigorieva’s domestic violence claim against the actor, which stems from an alleged incident on Jan. 6, 2010, in which he is accused of punching her in the face. In one of the audio clips (which the world appears to have accepted as authentic – Gibson has not issued a statement yet), Gibson seems to admit as much, shouting “You deserved it!” when Grigorieva mentions the incident. That could be damning evidence. But are the recordings even admissible in court?

Normally, California law requires two-party consent for recording phone conversations, and it seems Grigorieva may have recorded Gibson without his knowledge. But as criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos explains, even without his consent, there is still a chance the recordings could make it into evidence. “Generally there’s a presumption that they are not admissible,” says Geragos, who has represented Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder. “However, there is an exception under [penal code] 633.5, which [states that] in certain types of cases, they can be admissible. But that is a factual inquiry. A judge would have to rule on that.” The exception, he explains, only comes into play in “kidnapping, bribery, extortion, and crimes involving threats of violence.” Essentially, that means it’s up to Grigorieva’s legal team to convince a judge that the infamous rants should be admitted. But, according to defense attorney James E. Blatt, that shouldn’t be too difficult. “[The tapes] will be admissible,” he says. “If someone is calling you to to say, ‘I’m going to bury you in a rose garden, and I have the ability to do that,’ I think that’s a reasonable inference of a criminal threat.” And Gibson’s rant might fit under another exception to the penal code: annoying phone calls. “I think it’s pretty clear that most people would consider these phone calls to be annoying,” Blatt says. “That’s an understatement.”

Additional reporting by Kate Ward.

More Mel Gibson:
Mel Gibson recordings: Have you listened?
Owen Gleiberman: Mel Gibson and the tale of the tape
Lisa Schwarzbaum: Mel Gibson: Despicable he, but will his behavior keep you from buying a ticket to his movies?
Mel Gibson: Fourth tape posted online
Third Mel Gibson tape surfaces online

Second threatening Mel Gibson tape emerges online

Mel Gibson’s agency drops him as a client

Originally posted July 14 2010 — 4:41 PM EDT

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