A new, just released report shows the number of federal and state-authorized wiretaps conducted in 2019. A wiretap is a court-authorized warrant, allowing law enforcement to listen to and record conversations and/or text messages on a target’s phone. In most jurisdictions, the law enforcement agency applying for such an order must demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that the target is engaged in a specified unlawful activity, that he uses the particular phone to conduct his illegal activity, that traditional methods of investigation have been tried or would not likely be successful, and that the wiretap is necessary to uncover the full extent of the target’s criminal activity, and/or the other coconspirators’. Such authorizations are usually limited to a 30-day period, but can be extended by a court under certain circumstances. Many individuals in the United States use encrypted messaging to protect their privacy – some for innocuous reasons, others for more illicit ones. Encryption may not, however, protect messages and conversations from being produced pursuant to a wiretap.
When a person is a target of a federal or state criminal investigation, they are often contacted − either directly if unrepresented or through counsel if represented − to attend either a proffer or a reverse proffer with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, State Attorney General’s Office, or County Prosecutor’s Office.
Whether you are in federal or state court, well-crafted pretrial motions are essential to a successful defense. Pretrial motions are requests by way of formal motion, which may ask for the court to compel the prosecutor to turn over evidence, to dismiss the indictment or certain counts, to exclude or limit certain evidence, or to prevent the prosecutor from making certain arguments to the jury, among other things. These types of motions may also raise discovery violations; challenge the admission of evidence from searches, electronic surveillance, identifications, and custodial interrogation; and/or challenge the sufficiency of grand jury proceedings.
I have written before about both the good advances in technology, and the negative consequences of some of those developments. Here are a few more methods high tech methods that law enforcement uses, and occasionally misuses, in its investigations.
The police stop you for an alleged driving infraction – speeding, failure to stay in lane, tinted windows – and while talking with you the officer smells the odor of marijuana. The officer asks you to step out of the car, searches the car and finds drugs. You contact a criminal defense attorney to defend you and explore the possibility of a motion to suppress the search. If you are the driver of a personal vehicle or the owner, you have what is known as an expectation of privacy and “standing” to suppress the search. However, if you are a passenger of the vehicle, or the driver of a rental car that was rented by a friend or family member and you are not listed on the rental agreement, you may lack standing to challenge the search of the vehicle.
On May 2, 2017, the New Jersey Supreme Court beat back an attempt by prosecutors and a lower court judge to require a defendant to create and turn over evidence prior to trial over the defendant’s objection that doing so violated his right to remain silent. In State v. Tier, the Supreme Court clarified an issue that often causes a great deal of argument in the days leading up to criminal trials: the extent to which and in what form a defendant must provide the State with statements by witnesses who are expected to testify for the defense. In ruling for the defense, the Supreme Court provided criminal defendants with a valuable precedential opinion by which to combat overly-aggressive attempts by the State to shift the burden onto the defendant to produce evidence before trial.