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Police may have used illegal wiretaps in drug cases

Ohio readers may be interested in the story of hundreds of national wiretaps approved by a California county that may be ruled inadmissible because they were not properly approved by the district attorney as required by federal law. The violation could undermine up to 738 wiretaps used in drug cases as far away as Kentucky and Virginia.

Riverside County, which is a suburb of Los Angeles, approved nearly 20 percent of all U.S. wiretap requests in 2014. However, an investigation by USA Today and The Desert Sun discovered that hundreds of wiretap requests were reviewed by lawyers other than the county's district attorney. This is an apparent violation of a federal law that requires wiretap approvals to be personally requested by a top prosecutor to ensure the invasive measure is judiciously used. Congress enacted the law after the FBI secretly monitored civil rights leaders in the 1960s.

Any surveillance obtained by improperly approved wiretap requests could be ruled inadmissible in court, which could undermine hundreds of drug cases. A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union said that Riverside should warn any law enforcement agencies that obtained wiretap approvals through the county that their surveillance could be thrown out. The civil rights organization also said the subjects of the wiretaps should be notified, whether or not they were ever arrested.

Ohio residents facing drug charges could face severe consequences, including significant fines and jail time. However, a criminal defense attorney could carefully examine the evidence in the case for inaccuracies that could lead to a reduction or dismissal of charges. Legal counsel could also scrutinize police conduct for violations of a defendant's rights, such as the use of illegal surveillance.

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