DEA Finally Decides To Do Something About Its Wiretap Warrant Abuses

from the Re:-Something:-Will-this-do? dept

The DEA will no longer be able to waltz into Riverside County (CA) judge Helios Hernandez's chambers and walk out with signed wiretap warrants. I mean, they'll still be able to get Judge Hernandez to sign warrants. After all, no one does it better:

Nearly all of that surveillance was authorized by a single state court judge in Riverside County, who last year signed off on almost five times as many wiretaps as any other judge in the United States.

He's so efficient even the DEA can't quite wrap its mind around it.

Hernandez approved 20 times as many wiretaps as his counterparts in San Bernardino County. DEA officials said they could not explain that difference.

The DEA never let Rule 41 jurisdiction limitations bother them. Agents used wiretap warrants to track suspects all over the nation. The DEA also didn't let the DOJ's hesitancy to condone its actions/warrants get in the way of its drug warring. DOJ lawyers heavily hinted that if the DEA wanted to use questionable wiretap warrants, it had better not be dragging its raggedy affidavits into federal court.

But drag those affidavits into federal court it did, forcing the DOJ to defend the very warrants it told the DEA to stop dropping off at its place. The DOJ's lawyers said the toxic, possibly illegal warrants were actually 100% legal, perfectly compliant with federal and state law -- even though they were missing the signature of the local District Attorney, as required by federal law.

The DEA -- having had its bogus warrant assembly line exposed by USA Today's Brad Heath and Brett Kelman -- is finally moving towards curbing its wiretap abuse.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has ordered its agents to seek input from federal prosecutors before tapping Americans’ phone calls or text messages, months after it came under fire for a vast and legally questionable eavesdropping program in the Los Angeles suburbs.

The rules are a significant change for the drug agency, which had dramatically increased its use of wiretaps over the past decade by seeking authorization from state judges and prosecutors who were willing to approve the surveillance more quickly and with less scrutiny.

In theory, this means DEA agents will have to have federal prosecutors sign off on affidavits/warrants before running them past whoever happens to be manning the desk at the local DA's office. This won't necessarily make them more compliant with federal law, as it has historically been truly rare to find the local DA actually in his office, but it does mean there will finally be some oversight in place. To date, the only "oversight" the DEA has had to endure is the occasional DOJ lawyer telling agents "no fucking way" (ACTUAL QUOTE) whenever they approached federal prosecutors with a drug bust.

And, unless DEA brass is really serious about changing the agency's shady methods, it's likely nothing will change. Drug warriors, like water, seek their own level, running downhill against the least resistance.

Wiretaps are considered so intrusive that federal law requires approval from a senior Justice Department official before agents can even ask a federal court for permission to conduct one. The law imposes no such restriction on state court wiretaps, even when sought by federal agents.

Unless the DEA (or Congress) closes this loophole, nothing will change. There may be a temporary improvement, but it will be just that: temporary. The DEA has long been used to jumping zero hurdles on its way to intercepting communications. There's no reason to believe it won't revert to form unless steps are taken to prevent it. In fact, the DEA's actions will probably have less effect on its wiretap abuse than the installation of a new district attorney. As of the end of February, DA Mike Hestrin had only approved 14 wiretap warrants -- a huge decrease from the 126 approved over the same two-month period last year.


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  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 11 Jul 2016 @ 5:26am

    Have every governmental employee write, a thousand times on a blackboard, "The ends do not justify the means."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 11 Jul 2016 @ 5:59am

    Surely a coincidence

    The DEA never let Rule 41 jurisdiction limitations bother them. Agents used wiretap warrants to track suspects all over the nation.

    Hmm, I wonder if this has anything at all to do with the push to make warrants apply nation-wide, such that there's basically no such thing as jurisdiction anymore, a warrant obtained in one area is good for their entire country or even planet?

    Nah, I'm sure the government agencies would never attempt to retroactively legalize their actions like that, surely they'd simply realize that they were violating the law and change their actions to be in line with the law once more, rather than continue to do the same thing and attempt to change the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 11 Jul 2016 @ 8:55am

    Color me skeptical

    Because I'm skeptical. But we'll see -- I'm often wrong, and I'm hoping this is one of those times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2016 @ 10:34am

    "Hernandez approved 20 times as many wiretaps as his counterparts in San Bernardino County. DEA officials said they could not explain that difference."

    Let me guess, they won't even investigate how and why a judge approves so many wiretaps let alone punish him for obviously not upholding the rule of law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bob, 11 Jul 2016 @ 11:28am

    The headline should have been:

    The DEA has got 99 warrants but legal, ain't one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jul 2016 @ 4:31pm

    Congress isn't going to do a damned thing about it because it's currently controlled by the "tough on crime"/"war on crime" faction that doesn't give a damned about civil rights. Also, think of anarchists/communists/terrorists!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 11 Jul 2016 @ 5:54pm

    what are they bribing this judge with is my question

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 11 Jul 2016 @ 6:43pm

    Funny

    Unless the DEA (or Congress) closes this loophole,

    Hee-hee-hee-haw-haw-haw...! Whoa, that's a good one! I haven't heard a joke like that since Hee-Haw! folded!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Justme, 11 Jul 2016 @ 8:22pm

    Keeping Score. . .

    Problems solved by the war on drugs: 0
    Problems created by the war on drugs: ???

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jul 2016 @ 9:14am

      Re: Keeping Score. . .

      Sorry, there are a few problems solved:
      How to employ more citizens,
      How to get elected/re-elected,
      How to keep for-profit prisons in the black,
      How to search property without first getting a warrant,
      Etc...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TOPDOG, 13 Jul 2016 @ 1:29pm

    Just say NO...To the D.E.A.

    The D.E.A. as well as the F.D.A . have shown themselves to be completely incompetent and irresponsible. Using their positions as an Authoritarian power grip to wage a drug war on Americans and as a smokescreen to strip away Civil and Human Liberty's..It has long passed time for these goose-stepping ,jack booted, tyrants to be removed from any position of Authority or responsibility. Any civilian organization could do a much better job without using law as a tyrannical death grip on Americans and around the world where they support other despots and tyrants who use law enforcement to take power. Any consumers organization would put their efficiency and effectiveness to a disgraceful shame.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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