Sources reported on Nov. 20 that federal drug agents used potentially illegal wiretaps to take individuals from across the nation, including Kentucky, into custody. Authorities in Riverside, California, took more than 300 people into custody by using wiretaps. According to investigations by USA TODAY and other news-related sources, more than 700 wiretaps that were believed to violate federal law were used.
It is against federal law for the government to seek approval from the courts to wiretap an individual unless the request was authorized personally by a top prosecutor. This federal restriction has been on the books since the 1960s after the FBI wiretapped civil rights leaders. The records indicated that the district attorney allowed low-level attorneys to approve wiretap requests. If this is the case, this practice would violate federal law. The only time a lower-level official was allowed to sign off on a wiretap request was if the DA had authorized that person to take over their duties while they were out of office.
If the district attorney did indeed delegate the wiretap requests to lower-level staff, there may be a legal problem. Evidence from a drug case that was obtained by wiretap was actually thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974. Riverside’s district attorney’s office stated that the wiretaps in question would be defended if they are challenged.
If a person was charged with drug possession or another crime after being wiretapped, an attorney may potentially defend them against the accusations by challenging the evidence. If it can be proven that the district attorney or the official acting as the district attorney did not approve the wiretap, any evidence that was gathered by wiretap may be challenged. If the evidence is thrown out, the prosecution may not have a case against the person, causing the case be dropped.