Sunday, May 20, 2018
"Surplus" does not make an otherwise legal wiretap order insufficient
The Supreme Court decided Dahda v. United States, 2018 WL 2186173 (U.S. May 14, 2018), this past week. As you may know, this case originated from Kansas and involves the federal wiretap statute (18 USC 2510-2518). We previously blogged about the case here. In Dahda, the Supreme Court affirmed the Tenth Circuit's decision, but rejected its reasoning. The Supreme Court was not kind to the Tenth Circuit’s analysis, calling its interpretation of the statute “too narrow” and reminding the Tenth that the statute “means what it says.”
The wiretap statute includes a statutory suppression remedy (or an exclusionary rule), which applies in three instances: (1) where a communication was unlawfully intercepted; (2) where the order authorizing the intercept was "insufficient on its face"; and (3) where the intercept did not conform with the order authorizing the interception.
Dahda involved the second provision. The Court held that an order's sufficiency is measured via 2518(4), which requires the order to include the “identity of the person, if known, whose communications are to be intercepted,” “a particular description of the type of communication sought to be intercepted, and a statement of the particular offense to which it relates." The Dahdas objected to something else: a sentence within the order authorizing interception of phones located “outside the territorial jurisdiction of the court,” and further authorizing the interception to “take place in any other jurisdiction within the United States.”
In a bit of a brain buster, the Court held that this sentence did not make the order insufficient (even though it was “without legal effect” because the order could not legally authorize a wiretap outside Kansas). Instead, the sentence was surplus. “Were we to remove the sentence from the Orders, they would then properly authorize wiretaps within the authorizing court's territorial jurisdiction. A listening post within the court's territorial jurisdiction could lawfully intercept communications made to or from telephones located within Kansas or outside Kansas.” And here, the government did not use any evidence at trial that was obtained from a listening post outside of Kansas.
This last fact appears dispositive. Nothing from outside of Kansas was admitted, so nothing outside of Kansas should have been (but was not) suppressed. The territorial language, right or wrong, did not make the order insufficient. So the Dahdas lose (in a unanimous decision).
As an aside, the Court does not address what would have happened if communications seized from a listening post outside of Kansas, from phones not located within Kansas, were admitted at trial; perhaps they would have to be excluded as “unlawfully intercepted.”
It's a short decision worth the read.