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.