Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors have used wiretaps and other electronic surveillance methods to gather evidence of criminal activity for over a century. The privacy issues involved in listening in on the conversations of private citizens invoke constitutional protections that have been addressed by both Arizona and Federal courts. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently affirmed a defendant’s conviction for drug trafficking offenses, rejecting his contention that the wiretap evidence used to convict him was obtained in violation of federal law.
According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant had been a suspect in an ongoing drug trafficking investigation. In 2016, the Maricopa County attorney’s office submitted a request for wiretap authorization to the superior court, which was granted. Based on the evidence obtained by listening to the defendant’s phone conversations, he was arrested and charged with several drug trafficking offenses. Before trial, the defendant’s attorney attempted to suppress the wiretap evidence, arguing that a recently decided federal court case set the standards for wiretap applications, and the one submitted in the defendant’s case was not up to the standard
The federal law concerning wiretap applications was recently clarified by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Arizona. The 9th Circuit determined that a valid application for a wiretap must be signed off by the “principle prosecuting attorney” for the jurisdiction where the wiretap is requested. The application, in this case, was signed off by a deputy district attorney, not the principal prosecuting attorney for Maricopa County.
Although the application appeared invalid under the newly developed federal law, the Arizona courts permitted the evidence to be submitted at trial. The Court of Appeals ruled that a subsequent affidavit submitted by the principal prosecuting attorney for Maricopa County was sufficient to meet the federal requirements. As a result of this ruling, the defendant will be required to continue serving out his sentence unless a federal appeal is pursued and succeeds. As technology progresses, the methods and tactics used by law enforcement performing electronic surveillance will change, and justice advocates must be prepared to challenge whatever new tactics the state may come up with.
Understanding wiretap laws can be critical to fighting cases involving this type of evidence. The last thing you want is an attorney who takes the government’s word at face value and doesn’t think to challenge all unfavorable evidence.
Are You Facing Arizona Criminal Charges?
If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with a crime in Arizona, challenging improper police and prosecutorial tactics may be an important part of your defense. Although Arizona courts often construe existing laws in ways to benefit the prosecution, a qualified defense attorney can help prevent prosecutors and judges from abusing their discretion in your case. The experienced Arizona criminal defense attorneys with the Law Office of James E. Novak have what it takes. If you’re concerned about the charges against you, contact us and we’ll start working on your defense today To schedule a free consultation and discuss your case, call 480-413-1499.