PHOENIX — A federal appeals court panel has ruled that the wiretapping practices of some Arizona prosecutors violated U.S. law.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery did not personally review and approve electronic-surveillance warrants as required and instead relied on a state statute that is less restrictive.
Under a federal law, the “principle prosecuting attorney” must approve the law enforcement requests for wiretaps, the Arizona Republic reported (http://bit.ly/2vxmBMq).
Instead, Montgomery’s subordinates handled the approval process, the panel said. The wiretaps were then authorized by a judge after prosecutors presented evidence showing probable cause.
Judge William Fletcher wrote in his opinion that Arizona’s wiretap provisions also go against the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968.
The Wednesday ruling was in response to a civil lawsuit by Manuela Villa, who claimed her privacy was violated when law enforcement officers recorded her conversations during a 2012 narcotics investigation. Villa was not subject of the investigation and faced no criminal charges, according to the report.
The appeals court panel judges ruled that the county attorney had handed off his search-warrant responsibility to his subordinates and did not review the petition.
Villa’s lawyer, Cameron Morgan, said the panel’s decision was significant.
“We’ve seen a lot of abuses of wiretap investigative techniques,” Morgan said. “Hopefully, this will end some of the major abuses . And, hopefully, it’ll make the (Arizona) judiciary sit up and take notice.”
Montgomery said in a statement that he reads “each affidavit provided by law enforcement in support of a wiretapping application” and would “most likely” appeal.
Defense lawyer Alan Simpson predicted that the ruling could impact pending criminal cases.
“It’s a tsunami that’s going to wash so many of these cases right out … There’s no legal way around it. The evidence is suppressible,” Simpson said.
A spokeswoman for the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council could not be reached for comment.
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com