Wiretap of of high profile government officials has been a hot topic in the news lately. The power of the federal government agents ability to get a federal judge to sign off on a wiretap is unnerving, especially when the judge assumes the affidavit of the federal agent contains truthful information. These are usually seen in FBI investigations. Unfortunately, our federal government is filled with unethical special agents that abuse their authority. Hopefully you will not be the victim of an unlawful wiretap by the Feds.
Federal Wiretap Reports
Wiretap reports are published by the federal government usually every year. This electronic eavesdropping, while seemingly invasive, is considered lawful interception in the United States. Used as an investigative tool, wiretaps serve as government means for collecting evidence on various offenses. One of the most popular uses for wiretaps is to catch illegal drug activity through a wiretap.
As most wiretapping devices emit no audible sounds, many Americans are unaware that the government is listening in on private conversations. Surveillance devices include pen registers, which capture outgoing dialed numbers, trap and trace devices, which capture incoming dialed numbers, and recording applications. Almost 97% of these devices are used on “portable devices,” such as cell phones and digital pagers. However, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act extends federal surveillance abilities to transmissions of electronic data by computer.
Wiretap & The War on Drugs
In 2013, about 87% of federal and state wiretaps were related to the war on drugs. While wiretapping is typically seen as a last resort source for gathering evidence, it has proven particularly valuable to federal investigators. In drug cases, recordings from wiretaps are extremely incriminating and damaging to defendants. With the successes of indictments from wiretapping recordings, the surveillance is becoming increasingly prominent.
Wiretap evidence is now routine in multi-defendant federal drug cases, monitoring activities within trafficking circles. In operation for about 40 days, wiretaps in drug-related cases investigate proof of planning undercover buys, shipments, and concealment of supplies. While these activities can be denied if the defendant is not directly referred to in the recorded evidence, most juries consider such content to be entirely compromising.
The Complications of Wiretapping
In California, eavesdropping laws call for two-party consent, meaning all involved in the communication must be aware of the surveillance. The regulations have been amended to permit a wiretap in conspiracy or cases of murder, kidnapping, and terrorism. Yet federal operations only require one-party consent, overriding individual state laws. In cases of drug offenses, a federal order with one-party consent authorizes wiretap activity in California.
However, the legality of gaining such convicting evidence is fairly shaky. Although Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, also known as the Wiretap Act, permits the intentional interception of communications by law enforcement, various federal statutes protect privacy through the regulation of investigations. All wiretapping operations require a court order with probable cause. Once the wiretap has been discontinued, the defendant must be notified after its termination. Furthermore, all recordings must remain sealed. If these restrictions are not followed, a federal wiretap becomes a case of electronic eavesdropping, an infraction of Title III.
Challenging Evidence from Wiretapping
On November 6, 2014, a federal judge dropped charges against ten defendants in a recent drug trafficking case. Similarly, just days earlier, the U.S. attorney’s office was forced to drop charges on another 28 defendants in six federal drug cases, despite the fact that many had already pleaded guilty. In both cases, defendants were dismissed due to the evidence that incriminated them in the first place. As FBI agents involved in the wiretapping and surveillance processes were found guilty of misconduct, the evidence was no longer considered legal.
Litigating the use of wiretaps in unfair drug cases is possible. Failure to adhere to the terms of Title III on the part of the government or the one consenting party can result in dismissal of the trial. With an attorney, you can explore any violations of the Wiretap Act, from legitimacy of authorization, to authenticity of recordings or content. Such investigations may prove the illegality of wiretapped evidence, resulting in dropped charges.
If you or someone you know has been a target of a wiretap and have been charged with a crime, contact Federal Defense Attorney Karren Kenney for assistance at (855) 505-5588.