Police wiretapping is actuallly a rare phenomenon, contrary to what movies and T.V. shows would have you believe. Nonetheless, the police are allowed to use wiretaps in some circumstances. The most common situation where police are allowed to wiretap phone calls is when they obtain a court order.
First, the police will ask a prosecutor to get a court order for a wiretap. With the prosecutor and the police will then have to go to a judge or magistrate and make the requisite showing before the judge will grant the wiretap order. Moreover, only certain local and federal prosecutors are allowed to apply for wiretap orders, and only certain courts can grant the use of the 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 investigation, or that those other means are too dangerous.
The court order will essentially permit, yet also limit, the use of the wiretap. Typically, these orders will:
The court order can place many other restrictions, including who can listen to the conversations and what records the police must keep.
Without a court order, the police cannot listen to your phone conversations, unless one of the parties consents to their use of a wiretap. Any information they gather cannot be used against a party in criminal trial. 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. Moreover, if the police use a wiretap in violation of a court order or without one, this can constitute police misconduct.
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 technically an "exception" because a court order is still needed, even if it comes after the wiretapping begins.
The police will use the wiretap to listen to your phone conversations with others. There are typically 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 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 criminal defense lawyer immediately.
Last Modified: 03-09-2015 11:51 AM PDTLaw Library Disclaimer
We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.