High Court Rules Against Weed Dealer in Wiretap Dispute

May 15, 2018, 7:54 PM

A marijuana dealer’s hopes were extinguished after the U.S. Supreme Court May 14 held that broad wiretap orders in a drug investigation didn’t require suppression of evidence gained from them.

A disputed sentence in the orders doesn’t have any legal effect so it doesn’t make the order insufficient, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for a unanimous court.

The Supreme Court’s narrow holding allowed it to avoid suppressing evidence and preserve “its pattern of requiring adherence to strict statutory construction,” John Marti, an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis, said in a statement sent to Bloomberg Law.

This is a technical warrant case with no “great significance” beyond “tidying up some of the law concerning one kind of a warrant,” Ronald J. Allen, an evidence professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, told Bloomberg Law.

Pot Network Surveillance

Los Rovell Dahda, who was convicted of crimes stemming from a “marijuana distribution network centered in Kansas,” challenged the orders, which allowed a wiretap outside the jurisdiction of Kansas, the issuing court’s jurisdiction.

Federal law, however, allows wiretaps only within a court’s “territorial jurisdiction.”

Evidence obtained from a wiretap that’s unconstitutional can be suppressed.

Dahda was indicted using evidence from mobile phone wiretaps in Kansas and Missouri.

The government agreed not to use evidence from the Missouri wiretap but Dahda moved to suppress all evidence gained from the orders, saying the orders were insufficient.

They are defective because the sentence authorizing taps outside Kansas, the court said.

But if the offending phrase is removed, the order would be sufficient to allow wiretaps within the jurisdiction because they don’t lack any details required by law, the court said.

It’s important that the Supreme Court made clear that judges can’t issue orders for wiretaps anywhere in the country, Jennifer Lynch, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Bloomberg Law in an email.

The group, which is dedicated to protecting civil liberties in the digital age, submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of Dahda.

This territorial limitation “is an important and necessary check on the power of district court judges to authorize a particularly invasive form of government surveillance,” Lynch said.

The case was decided by an eight-member court, because Justice Neil M. Gorsuch recused himself. He sat on the Tenth Circuit panel below when the case was argued, before he was appointed to the high court.

Dahda’s counsel, Kannon K. Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly in Washington, declined to comment.

The Department of Justice also didn’t comment on the case.

The case is Dahda v. United States, U.S., No. 17-43, 5/14/18.

((Updated with additional reporting.))

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at jrubin@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bloomberglaw.com

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