Earlier this month, in an appeal filed by attorney Cameron Morgan on behalf of Manuela Villa, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that county prosecutors violated federal law.
In the information age, do we really have privacy? According to the Constitution and supporting federal laws concerning wiretapping, yes. In 2005, the ACLU took a strong position against NSA surveillance. Many people seem to accept some level of spying as a fact of life. However, the constitutional right to privacy in the digital age continues to be hotly contested, as seen in the recent DOJ/Dreamhost litigation. Part of your attorney’s job is to identify and challenge violations of your rights, especially when they could affect the outcome of your case.
Villa filed a civil suit alleging that her privacy had been violated during an investigation linked to her daughter. She was not facing charges, but chose to seek damages in a class-action suit. The judges ruled that state and county attorneys had violated provisions of The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, Title III.
Villa was not awarded damages. She still won the suit, however, based on two key violations: (1) the principle prosecuting attorney has to personally review applications for wiretap warrants, and in this case assistants reviewed them instead; and (2) the recordings are supposed to be submitted as evidence within 10 days, whereas in this case it took two months.
For defense attorneys and their clients, this ruling prompts a close look at the evidence submitted by the prosecution. If electronic surveillance was conducted improperly, the 9th Circuit Court Ruling supports motions to dismiss cases due to lack of evidence. Although Arizona Attorney General Bill Montgomery plans to appeal, current case outcomes will be based on the ruling as it stands.