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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:36 am
If you find out that the government used wiretaps or other electronic surveillance to gather evidence against you in a federal criminal case, you have a right to access that evidence. This article explains the laws around federal wiretapping, how you can request the wiretap information, and what you can do if you think the surveillance violated your rights.
A federal wiretap is when law enforcement taps a phone line or intercepts electronic communications like emails or texts as part of a criminal investigation. This kind of surveillance is highly regulated under federal law. The main law is the Wiretap Act which is part of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.
For the government to get a wiretap warrant, they have to show probable cause that the wiretap will capture evidence of a serious federal crime like drug trafficking, racketeering, or terrorism. A federal judge reviews the wiretap application and can approve or deny it.
Wiretaps are considered very intrusive so the law sets limits – like they can only be used for 30 days at a time. There are also special rules about minimizing intercepted communications that aren’t relevant to the investigation.
If you are charged with a federal crime, the prosecution is required to turn over all evidence from wiretaps or electronic surveillance to your defense attorney. This happens through the discovery process. Your lawyer will review the wiretap evidence and can discuss it with you.
But sometimes prosecutors don’t disclose all the surveillance they conducted. If you have reason to believe a wiretap was used but not revealed, you can take action to uncover it. Here are signs you may have been subject to undisclosed wiretapping:
If you see these red flags, ask your lawyer to file a motion for disclosure of electronic surveillance evidence. The judge can order the prosecution to reveal any wiretaps or bugs used in your case.
Once you know a wiretap exists, you have a right under federal law to access the recordings and documents. Follow these steps:
In addition to wiretap recordings, you can request cell phone tracking data, stored text messages, social media records, and other electronic evidence. The process is the same – file a discovery motion and review what’s provided.
Once you access the wiretap evidence, your defense lawyer can use it to build your case in several ways:
In addition to using the wiretap evidence at trial, your lawyer may be able to get charges dismissed or reduced if there are major problems with the wiretaps. This depends on issues like:
If you believe the government’s wiretapping violated your Fourth Amendment rights, you can challenge the surveillance and seek to suppress any evidence it produced. Here are some common arguments:
Your lawyer will gather evidence about wiretap abuses through discovery, then file a motion to suppress citing the specific violations. You may also consider filing a civil rights lawsuit against the agents involved in illegal wiretapping.
Dealing with complex wiretap evidence requires an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer. Be sure to:
By spotting unlawful surveillance and moving to suppress it, an attorney can often get charges reduced or dismissed. Evidence from an illegal wiretap can fatally taint an entire case.
If you are facing federal criminal charges, be aware that wiretaps and electronic surveillance are commonly used by prosecutors. Pay attention for any signs you were subject to monitoring without your knowledge. Thorough discovery and good investigative work by your lawyer can uncover undisclosed wiretaps. Vigorously challenging illegal surveillance is one of the best ways to fight federal charges.
Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510-2523 – https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/part-I/chapter-119
Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 16 – https://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/rule_16
Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution – https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment
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