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Gov’t wiretap operation so dubious prosecutors question it

In our last post we made the observation that there are times when police in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, in their zeal to catch those they consider to be the bad guys, go a little too far.

They might push the boundaries of individuals’ protected constitutional rights to a point where it makes sense to ask, can they do that? Often, the answer is no. To uncover the possibility and make the appropriate argument to the court, individuals charged with a crime need to be working with experienced and skilled legal counsel.

The extent to which police procedures might get out of hand is now the matter of some media scrutiny and we think the perspective of the piece is an interesting one. It’s about a massive federal wiretapping operation that is so questionable that some Justice Department attorneys worry it might not be legal.

The operation is based in Riverside County, California, and is run by the Drug Enforcement Agency. It’s in that location because the DEA says it is something of a hub for the national distribution of illegal drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine.

Legal protocol for such wiretapping is supposed to be tied directly to crime within that jurisdiction. Indeed, one state judge in the county has given approvals for nearly all the activity. But the report says information from the taps has been secretly shared out and used to support arrests in suspected drug cases in other states.

Concern about the legality of the operation’s work is so high that federal lawyers in Los Angeles often refuse to use the evidence in federal court for fear it won’t stand up to a defense challenge.

The wiretapping activities are said to be more closely watched and regulated now since a new county district attorney took office early this year. The official says one of the biggest changes he has made is to insist that any new requests for wiretaps have a clear tie to suspected crime in the county.

That’s fine going forward, but what about all the prosecutions in various states that may have been helped along by the wiretapping activity of the past, but which remain under cover?

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