Spotlight on wiretaps: a singular surveillance, enforcement tool

One spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union says that wiretaps can easily entail a “pernicious” quality.

Here’s why.

Imagine that a judge in Los Angeles approves a wiretap that investigators subsequently avail themselves of to gain inside information regarding what they believe is a wide-scale drug operation.

Imagine, further, that U.S. attorneys have told police officials that they are hesitant to proceed with federal cases featuring evidence secured on the basis of warrants approved by that state judge.

One kernel of information that Los Angeles investigators learn from their tap concerns the potential criminal activity of an Alameda County resident. They inform Bay Area enforcement officials.

The problem: Those investigators can’t effect a stop, search or arrest based on the wiretap, since the Alameda County suspect is not identified in it and it would be embarrassing in court to have to reveal details concerning a tip derived from constitutionally infirm surveillance.

What they sometimes do instead to confront a criminal suspect, as noted in a national media overview on wiretap policies and surveillance, is come up with some pretextual excuse — in other words, a bogus reason — for making initial contact.

To wit: We stopped that truck driver hauling cocaine — which, in truth, we learned about from investigators using a wiretap in a far-off location and targeting another individual — because he suddenly veered from one lane to another. That provided our probable cause for the stop and a subsequent legal search that fortuitously revealed a massive cache of coke.

Does this happen?

Yes, it does, and does with some frequency, notes the above article. The practice even has a name: parallel construction.

The cited article chronicles one state judge in Southern California who routinely approves wiretap warrants at a rate flatly unrivaled anywhere else in the state. Legal problems can — and do — stem from wiretaps that aren’t closely regulated and that are casually approved.

Parallel construction, for example, “ends up insulating dubious police practices from any kind of judicial review,” states the aforementioned ACLU advocate.

Persons with questions or concerns regarding evidence-related or other issues pertaining to a criminal law investigation can obtain candid counsel and aggressive legal representation from a proven California criminal defense attorney.

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