It is so easy for federal investigators to obtain court approval for a wiretap of a private phone that in 2013, out of 3577 requests to federal judges, only one was denied. That may seem like a necessary and normal concession to prosecutors and federal investigators, but to defendants who may have their privacy invaded, and who may even be innocent, the statistic raises grave doubts about the basic fairness of the procedure. To representatives of civil rights groups, the apparent pro forma approval of wiretaps in drug crimes and drug trafficking cases may be indicative of the assault on civil liberties that has been given wide approval in the country and in California during the 21st Century.
This has been due, in part, to the controversial deference paid to investigations involving the war on drugs. However, now that most criminal law experts agree that the war on drugs has failed, and was a misplaced priority at best, the policy of granting virtually all wiretap approvals for federal investigations into drug crimes should be reviewed. The use of a wiretap by federal authorities was a factor in the recent arrest of the deputy police chief of Fresno, who was charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana, heroin, and oxycodone.
An affidavit filed with indictment stated that the defendant used certain code names on the intercepted messages. For example, prosecutors contend that when the defendant said "100 of those things" he was stating code for 100 oxycodone pills. Other seemingly innocuous statements are listed as signifying drug activities. That may be true in most instances but what about the case where the speaker really is using the everyday terms to refer to everyday events and things?
It is reasonable to think that the prosecution has much stronger evidence than that against the Fresno, California, deputy chief. However, according to some defense attorneys, the wiretap evidence in some cases may tip the scales for the prosecution. Some cases have been notably weak without the wiretap evidence. In this case, the prosecution will reveal the importance of the wiretap evidence as the drug crimes case moves forward through the criminal court system.
Source: sacbee.com, "Fresno cop's arrest is example of expanding federal wiretap use", Michael Doyle, April 1, 2015