In the United States, most legal investigations involve wiretapping. By definition, wiretapping is the stealthy electronic monitoring of telecommunications or Internet-based communications. Wiretapping can be used for many reasons with some bringing up negative consequences and other positive consequences. However, when used in the right manner especially in legal matters, wiretapping can help to track criminals on the run and prevent numerous crimes. In the United States legal system, wiretapping has been widely used as a means of collecting evidence to prosecute suspects. However, despite the high usage of wiretapping in investigative processes, there are some controversies involved with wiretapping.
The first time the topic of wiretapping was introduced in the US court proceeding was in the case of Olmsted vs. The United States. Olmstead among other individuals was suspected of bootlegging a conspiracy that led to the federal agents installing wiretaps in the basement of Olmstead building where criminal activities were alleged to occur (Simmons 2016). From the evidence obtained from the wiretaps, Olmstead was convicted for the violation of the National Prohibition Act. However, Olmstead appealed this decision citing that wiretapping violated the provisions of the Fourth and the Fifth Amendments.
On June 4, 1928, the Taft Court ruled that the use of wiretapped conversations neither violated the provisions of Fourth and Fifth Amendments. According to judge Taft, although wiretapping maybe unethical, a court cannot exclude evidence solely on moral grounds (Simmons 2016).
Following the introduction of the Communication Act of 1934, the Olmstead case was reversed. The Supreme Court in 1968 argued that any federal agency before using a wiretap must obtain a court order (Worrall 2007). However, the only evidence that can be used to prosecute a suspect is the evidence that such a federal agent hears while acting within the scope of a wiretap order. Nonetheless, if the conversations were heard by the federal agents after the point at which they knew or reasonably ought to have known that the talks were outside the scope of the court order, the evidence cannot be accepted as valid.
The general rule of wiretapping is that if a federal agent understands that the conversations they are listening fall outside the scope of the wiretap court order, the noble thing to do at this point is to stop surveilling the wiretap until they obtain a new wiretap court order if necessary (Solove 2016). In a nutshell, at a point where a federal agent having secured a wiretap court order finds out that the monitored conversation people or issues outside the scope of the wiretap court order, the federal officers have no option than to stop surveilling. If this is not the case, the evidence obtained after this point is not admissible.
Effects of Arresting Individuals outside the Scope of Wiretap Court Order
The future evidence that might be obtained from the wiretap cannot be affected by arresting people not associated with the wiretap. Why? First of all, arresting individuals for having committed crimes is not an offense. However, an arrest made following a wiretap not within the scope of the wiretap court order should not be executed (Solove 2016). The reason for this is that the evidence obtained without following the due legal process cannot be used to prosecute a suspect. Such evidence is not admissible in the court of the rule.
It is true that federal officers in the process of monitoring wiretaps come along other conspiracies and crimes not related to the target conspiracy or crime. If the officers see the conspiracies and gather enough evidence for person or persons involved in such crimes, they can make an arrest. However, these officers need to start a new chapter of investigation to re-correct information need to prosecute the suspects in a different court proceeding. The point here is that the already found evidence from the wiretap will be treated as inadmissible in the court of the rule.
An excellent example to illustrate this scenario is where during wiretapping, federal officers hear of a plan about a robbery. The officer might be at the scene where the proposed murder ought to take place. However, if the actual robbery fails not to occur, no tangible evidence from the wiretap can be used in the court of law to prosecute the individuals for attempted robbery.
Potential Risks Involved
The process of investigation is such a comprehensive task that needs to be carried with precision. As an investigative officer, one is responsible for gathering accurate evidence that will be used by the prosecuting judge to prosecute the involved suspects. As an investigative officer handling the wiretaps is mandated to collect, validate, and preserve evidence in support of the prosecution process (Solove 2016). As such, the officer listening to the wiretap is not supposed to arrest people who are not part of their search warrant. In an investigation, this can be termed as an unauthorized arrest which can interfere with the overall outcomes of the search. As observed by (Simmons 2016), the officer monitoring the wiretaps can and shall only arrest if the subjects that come up in the write up has any information that is of vital importance to the subject matter if the investigation.
As an investigative officer monitoring the wiretaps a significant drug trafficking operation, it is expected of me to stay focused on the primary goal of the operation. If I allow myself to become disturbed by other issues that come up from the wiretaps means I’m losing the focus of the operation. Arresting people who are not part of the search and who are not covered in the wiretap court order, though an essential aspect of curbing crime is a distraction which can have far-reaching effects as far as the search is concerned. The principal effect of such “unnecessary” arrest will potentially expose the concealed wiretap. As a result, it can put a stop to the investigation. It is, therefore, important to focus on one search at a time. After, the first investigation on drugs is effectively concluded, and then the other conspiracies that were detected in the wiretaps can be revisited.
Although the use of wiretapping in legal investigative processes has been subjected to a lot of controversies, currently the law is crystal clear on the procedure of using wiretaps. When the right procedure is used, and the laws are followed correctly, curbing criminal activities by arresting crime suspects will be made easier. As provided by the rulings of the Supreme Court, federal officers have to seek court orders before they can continue with the wiretapping process.
Simmons, A. N. (2016). Recent Development: Seal v. State: Pursuant to § 10-402 (C)(2)’s Exception to the Wiretap Ban, an Individual is Not Under the Supervision of an Investigative or Law Enforcement Officer When Intercepting an Oral Communication, Absent Restrictions on Equipment Use and Some Subsequent Contact. In the University of Baltimore Law Forum (Vol. 47, No. 1, p. 9).
Solove, D. J. (2016). A brief history of information privacy law. Proskauer on privacy, PLI.
Worrall, J. L. (2007). Criminal procedure: from the first contact to appeal. Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
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