Police Use Of Wiretaps

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Are Police Wiretaps Legal?

Police wiretapping is actual quite a rare phenomenon, contrary to what movies and TV shows would have you believe. The police are allowed to use wiretaps in limited circumstances. The major times when police are allowed to wiretap you phone calls are when you give them permission and when they obtain a court order.

How Do the Police get a Court order for a Wiretap?

The police will ask a prosecutor to get a court order for a wiretap. With the prosecutor, the police will have to go to a judge and make the necessary showing in order for the judge to grant the wiretap order. Only certain state and federal prosecutors are allowed to apply for wiretap orders and only certain courts can grant the court orders.

What Do the Police Need to Show in Order to get a Court Order for a Wiretap?

In order to obtain a court order for a wiretap, the police must show the probable cause required for a search warrant exists. In addition, the police must also show that they either unsuccessfully exhausted all other less intrusive means of investigating or that those other means are too dangerous.

What Will the Court Order Say?

The court order will limit the use of the wiretap. It can place restrictions on how the information gathered can be used, how long the police can listen to conversations, and what types of conversations the police are allowed to listen to. The court order can place many other restrictions, including who can listen to the conversations and what records the police must keep.

What Happens if the Police Don't Have a Court Order or Violate a Court Order?

Without a court order, the police cannot listen to your phone conversations, unless you or the person you're talking to consented to their use of a wiretap. Any information they gather cannot be used against you in criminal trial because it will be the result of an illegal search and can be suppressed. The same is true for information gathered in violation of the court order. The information can be suppressed as the result of an illegal search. Also, if the police use a wiretap in violation of a court order or without one, this can constitute police misconduct.

Are There any Exceptions to the Rule that the Police Need a Court Order?

The only real exception was mentioned above, and that is if you or the person you're talking to consents to the use of a wiretap. In special circumstances, the police can get an emergency wiretap, where they will work with the phone company to setup the wiretap immediately and the prosecutor will have 48 hours to obtain a court order. This is not a true exception because a court order is still needed, even if it comes after the wiretapping begins.

How Do Police Use a Wiretap?

The police will use the wiretap to listen to your phone conversations with others. There are three classifications of calls:

In addition to listening in on your phone calls, the police can monitor your phone calls in other ways. For example, the police can find out the numbers of everyone who calls you, they can record your calls, and they can keep track of all the numbers you call. Whatever the police do, it must be contained in the court order.

The Police Used a Wiretap to Gather Evidence against Me, Do I Need a Lawyer?

The laws regarding wiretaps vary from state to state and can be very complicated. An experienced lawyer can help you sort through the legal rules and inform you of your rights and defenses. If the police are bringing charges against you, you should consult a lawyer immediately. Also, if you feel the wiretap was unlawful or police misconduct, you should also seek out a lawyer as soon as possible.

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Last Modified: 05-27-2011 02:34 PM PDT

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