Many wiretaps may have been approved illegally

Illinois residents may not have heard that a number of wiretaps used since 2013 to arrest more than 300 people and seize drugs and cash may have been illegal. As many as 738 wiretaps were approved by lower-level attorneys between mid-2013 and late 2015 when according to federal law, wiretaps must be approved by a top prosecutor.

The wiretaps were all approved in Riverside County, California, but they were used in cases throughout the United States. Laws regarding who can approve wiretaps date back to the 1960s. Evidence obtained using a wiretap was thrown out in a 1974 case after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a senior official at the U.S. Justice Department who approved the wiretap was the wrong person to do so. In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reached a similar conclusion when a deputy district attorney in San Bernardino County approved a wiretap instead of the district attorney.

The former district attorney for Riverside County, who left office at the beginning of 2015, said he was too busy to approve all the wiretaps that came in. More than 52,000 people had their text messages and phone calls intercepted, and one attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union says that everyone who was recorded illegally should be notified.

As this case demonstrates, police and other investigators sometimes do not follow correct procedure. If they have done something illegal in the investigation or in detaining someone, some or all of the evidence in the case may also be dismissed. An attorney may be able to discuss with people who have been affected in such a manner whether their rights have been violated and what options they may have. There may be other defenses available as well. For example, defendants may opt for a plea bargain in which they plead guilty in exchange for lesser penalties.

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