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Illegal wiretaps could undermine hundreds of drug cases

Texas readers may be interested to learn that prosecutors at a prominent national wiretapping hub in California likely violated federal law when they permitted police eavesdropping in hundreds of drug cases. According to an investigation by USA Today and The Desert Sun, the violations could call into question the legality of up to 738 wiretaps approved by the Riverside County facility.

After the FBI was caught secretly monitoring civil rights activists in the 1960s, Congress enacted a law that requires a top prosecutor to personally seek court approval for wiretaps to ensure that such surveillance is only used when necessary. However, in Riverside County, the district attorney allowed lower-level lawyers to review wiretap requests. This is thought to be a violation of the federal wiretapping law and could cause any surveillance obtained through the wiretaps to be ruled inadmissible in court.

Wiretap applications are secret, which makes it difficult to determine how many were improperly approved by lawyers other than the district attorney. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, law enforcement agencies that made use of Riverside wiretaps should be warned that their surveillance may have been illegally obtained and the subjects of the wiretaps should be notified. Agencies as far away as Kentucky and Virginia reportedly sought wiretap approvals through Riverside County.

Texas residents charged with a federal crime can face severe consequences, including steep fines and lengthy prison terms. However, a criminal defense attorney could examine the evidence in a case for inaccuracies. The lawyer could also scrutinize police conduct for signs that an individual's rights were violated during an investigation through illegal wiretapping.

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