In a decision that could jeopardize pending criminal cases, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Wednesday that wiretapping practices of Maricopa County prosecutors violate federal law.
The tribunal said County Attorney Bill Montgomery, relying on a state statute, failed to personally review and approve electronic-surveillance warrants. Judges said U.S. law requires the “principle prosecuting attorney” — not subordinates — to approve applications.
Alan Simpson, a defense lawyer who did not take part in the case, predicted the appellate ruling will force the suppression of wiretap evidence in numerous ongoing criminal prosecutions, resulting in cases getting dismissed.
“This is really big,” Simpson said. “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.”
Montgomery ‘most likely’ will appeal
The appeals court decision stems from a civil lawsuit filed by Manuela Villa, whose phone conversations were recorded by law-enforcement officers during a 2012 narcotics investigation. Montgomery had delegated his search-warrant role to assistants in the criminal caseand did not review the petition, judges ruled.
In a written statement, Montgomery said he “most likely” will appeal, and disputed the 9th Circuit finding that he did not read the warrant papers. “Point of fact, I do read each affidavit…
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