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Mom Arrested for Putting Recorder in Backpack to Catch Daughter's Bully


NOV 30

A Virginia mom was arrested and charged with a felony for placing a hidden voice recorder in her 9-year-old daughter's backpack.

Sarah Sims of Norfolk, Va., placed the audio recorder in her daughter's bag in September in hopes of finding out who was bullying her 4th grade child in her classroom at Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, VA. School officials found device however, and called police.

Now the 47-year-old mother is facing up to 5 years in federal prison if she is convicted.

So What Happened?

Sims, a full time student herself at Norfolk State University, was upset when her daughter told her she was being bullied at school. Sims reached out to officials at her daughter's school only to get no response.

Frustrated, Sims decided to take matters into her own hands to protect her daughter.

"I don't always get the opportunity to be on the premises [at school], and I thought this would be a good way for me to learn the environment," Sims told CNN's Don Lemon.

Sims' attorney Kristin Paulding was "appalled" when she heard the charges.

"I was shocked to see that the school would decide to go to the police department and ultimately charge this mother as opposed to sitting her down and having just a simple conversation about what were her concerns and how could the school alleviate those concerns," Paulding said.

The recorder was confiscated by school officials and turned over to police, Sims is unsure what, if anything, was caught on the recorder.

Why was Sims Arrested?

Sims was arrested and charged with a felony - intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications, a felony, as well as a misdemeanor charge for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Virginia is a one-party consent state when it comes to audio recording, meaning that at least one person being recorded is aware of the recording, or at least one person has given consent.

It's not clear whether her daughter was aware of the recording device.

What's Next?

Sims' case has been turned over to the Norfolk commonwealth’s attorney’s office, which has yet to comment on the case.

Sims' daughter is still attending Ocean View Elementary School, but has since been transferred to another classroom.

The likelihood of Sims being sentenced to the maximum penalty of 5 years seems very low, and it's very possible changes may be dismissed entirely, based on the circumstances. However the final decision rests with local prosecutors.

Legality of Audio Recording Devices

Laws for voice and audio recording have been on the books for years. Laws vary by state, which range from "one party consent" to "two party consent".

One party consent states, like Virginia, require at least one person being recorded to be aware or consent to the recording.

Two party consent recording is much more strict however, as ALL parties being recorded must have knowledge or have consented to recording. Eleven states require two party consent - including California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Our Expert's Take

Audio recording can be tricky, as seen by this story, police may be willing to charge you with a crime for using a spy recorder to record someone without their knowledge or consent, regardless of the circumstances.

Certainly it is understandable that a mother would want to protect their child, and on it's face it seems a little backwards that school officials seemingly ignored the mother's concerns regarding her daughter's bullying, only to get involved when the mother tried to get evidence of the bullying, which apparently included both physical and verbal abuse.

With advances in technology, and audio recording devices getting smaller and smaller, and with dozens of styles available, like USB flash drive audio recorders, uncovering and documenting bullying and abuse is becoming more common.

Bullying seems to be becoming a more common occurrence, so parents may turn to covert recording devices to investigate abuse, but as in Sims' case, parents may open themselves up to legal responsibility for doing so.

As with any recording device, video or audio, we recommend consulting with a local attorney or other legal representation before deploying any type of recorder or listening device, especially in a case like this where the recordings may need to be used as evidence in court.


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