The Basics of How a Wiretap Works

Fotolia_69031331_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgEvery American citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This Constitutional protection applies to many aspects of modern life. It extends over things such as a person’s house, car, and telephone. However, the government can get past this shield of privacy. Law enforcement and the judicial branch work hand in hand to acquire warrants to get past a person’s right of privacy. If the government believes a person is committing criminal behavior, then it will try to stop whatever that person is doing by piercing his privacy. In this regard, one of the government’s most powerful tools is wiretapping.

A wiretap is a government interception of electronic communications. Typically speaking, a wiretap catches phone calls, but it can be extended now to get other modes of real-time communications made over the internet, such as Skype calls. Different law enforcement agencies conduct wiretaps for different reasons. For example, the DEA will conduct a wiretap for the purpose of preventing drug trafficking.

Law enforcement cannot listen to any phone call whenever they wish. First, the police must submit a wiretap application to a judge. 18 U.S.C.A. § 2518. Which judge reviews the application depends on the jurisdiction, but it is usually a district judge. In most cases, the prosecutor fills out the application with the police force and submits it to the judge. If the judge approves the application, it turns into a court order and the police can eavesdrop on particular conversations, record them, and eventually submit them into evidence.

There are time tables and limits that effect how wiretaps are executed. When a wiretap is conducted, it has to be for a stated period of time. In the alternative, it can also automatically terminate after the law enforcement agency obtains the information that it has been seeking. However, the wiretap warrant cannot last forever. The longest a warrant can last is 30 days. When a wiretap warrant hits its expiration date, there has to be a new application and order permitting the law enforcement agency to continue conducting the wiretap. The period begins either on the day the law enforcement officer first begins to conduct an interception under the order or ten days after the order is entered.

The police officer who is conducting the wiretap must obtain information or accomplish the purpose of the wiretap. This must happen within the time-frame of the wiretap warrant. If the police fail to obtain any information within the 30 day time-frame, then it is unlikely they will get another extension. Typically speaking, judges require reports detailing what the officer has discovered during the wiretap. If the answer is nothing, then the judge is unlikely to grant another order. On the other hand, if the police do discover evidence that will help them prosecute a criminal, then the judge will probably grant an extension. This process can continue on for years until the government has enough evidence to prosecute the suspect.

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Gilbert Garcia has been Passionately Pursuing Justice for over 30 years and founded The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm in 2008. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is a boutique law firm, specializing in Criminal Defense. Gilbert represents adults and juveniles accused of a crime and who have with a felony, misdemeanor or record cleaning case. Conveniently located on the courthouse square to serve Montgomery and Walker Counties. Gilbert became Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1989. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is located at 220 N. Thompson St., Suite 202, Conroe, TX 77301.