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Mel Gibson tapes: Some experts doubt they can be used in court

July 15, 2010 |  7:15 am

Mel Gibson

Audio recordings in which actor Mel Gibson seems to acknowledge hitting his ex-girlfriend have been making headlines all week. But legal experts say it's highly debatable whether the recordings would be admissible even if the case were to go to criminal court.

Of the audio clips released, the most damaging in a criminal case likely would be an exchange in which Gibson apparently tells Russian model and former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva she “deserved” to be hit.

But the volatile conversation, in which Gibson also uses derogatory terms for women, Latinos and African Americans, seems to have been recorded without the “Lethal Weapon” star’s permission.

Legal experts say that’s where the recording’s admissibility becomes murky. In California, both parties must consent to have a phone conversation recorded. Under normal circumstances, legal experts said, that would make the Gibson tapes unusable in court, and their recording potentially a crime.

But Dmitry Gorin, a defense attorney and former deputy district attorney, said there are rare exceptions when surreptitious recordings can be cleared. One, he said, is for victims of violence. 

“If she falls in that exception then recording is in fact admissible,” Gorin said. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating the allegations of domestic violence.

Officials said the recordings in question, released by celebrity news outlet RadarOnline.com, would be added to other evidence being reviewed by detectives.

Stanford law professor Robert Weisberg said Grigorieva would also have to prove her intention at the time of the recording was to eventually assist police – not, say, to sell the tapes for profit.

Weisberg compared the Gibson tapes to the recordings in the Scott Peterson murder trial, in which the Modesto man was recorded without his permission lying about his whereabouts. In that case, the tapes were deemed admissible, Weisberg said, because they were used to assist law enforcement.

--Robert Faturechi

Photo: Mel Gibson in Santa Monica, 2010 (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)