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.