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Court: Extra-Territorial Wiretaps 'Not Insufficient'

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 16, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Rejecting arguments to suppress evidence in a drug case, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the power of a judge to issue wiretap orders outside a trial court's jurisdiction.

In Dahda v. United States, a Kansas judge issued wiretap orders that were used to intercept communications in Kansas and other states. The justices held unanimously that the wiretap orders were "not insufficient" under a federal wiretap statute.

The Court rejected the defendants' argument that allowing judges extra-territorial jurisdiction produced "bizarre" results.

Wiretap Statute

Under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, judges are authorized to issue wiretap orders to help prevent, detect or prosecute serious crimes. A judge must find "probable cause" to issue an order.

Los and Roosevelt Dahda, charged in a drug distribution case, sought to suppress evidence from nine wiretap orders under the statute. They claimed the orders were facially insufficient under 18 U.S.C. Section 2518(10)(a) of the statute because the judge authorized orders outside his territorial jurisdiction.

The trial court denied their motion, and an appeals court agreed. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, saying the orders were not insufficient because only the wiretaps in Kansas were used at trial.

"Because the remainder of each Order was itself legally sufficient, we conclude that the Orders were not 'insufficient' on their 'face,'" Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.

A Statutory Defect

The justices recognized a defect in the statute because it can extend a wiretap order outside a judge's jurisdiction, but they said the orders in this case were sufficient for the wiretaps in Kansas. The information gathered outside the state was not even used.

The Dahdas were indicted for conspiring to buy drugs in California in order to sell them in Kansas. Investigators collected some evidence by wiretapping their calls from Missouri to California.

Prosecutors agreed not to introduce that evidence at trial. The Dahda brothers were convicted for their part in a $17 million drug ring.

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