Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Laws- Chicago Defense Attorney Explains Law on Wiretaps

​Further Erosion of Civil Liberties as New Wiretap Law Goes Into Effect in Illinois,
Changes Affect Felony Drug Violation Investigations

On January 1, 2013, a new law governing wiretaps will go into effect. Public Act 97-846 adds a new exception to existing Illinois wiretap laws and allows a law enforcement officer, or a person acting at the direction of one, to record or listen with the aid of an eavesdropping device (commonly referred to as a wire or bug) to a conversation during the course of an investigation of a felony drug violation. Aside from this addition itself, what is especially noteworthy is that now, law enforcement does not need a court order to use a wiretap. Instead, a wiretap can occur if approved by a State’s Attorney who, as the title implies, acts at the behest of the state, whereas a judge is traditionally seen to be an objective, neutral figure in such matters, favoring neither the state in its persecution power, or those suspected of wrong-doing.

Upon reading about this law, you might wonder what exactly a “felony drug violation” is. It certainly sounds terrible, and conjures up images of mountains of cocaine or bags upon bags of prescription narcotics - surely it’s something that only the Scarface-types are familiar with. Surely a felony drug violation isn’t something that the average American and Illinois resident has to worry about.

You may be surprised. While mountains of cocaine and sacks of Vicodin pills surely are a felony drug violation, there are many other things that fall under the umbrella of such a term, and trigger this law, granting police officers or their informants (who could be your neighbors or a friend or even a relative) the power to use a wiretap to listen in on and even record your private conversations.

Suppose, for example, that you notice your teenager’s car is in dire need of an oil change, or the cold weather caused one of the windshield wipers to snap off. You decide to take it in to the mechanic by yourself, and while driving there, you are pulled over. When the officer asks, you consent to a search of your car, because you have nothing to hide, aside from the week-old Big Mac wrappers your kid left on the backseat. But during the search, the officer finds several joints neatly sealed in a plastic bag - whether they belong to your kid or to one of his friends, you have no clue. But you’ve just driven yourself right into a felony drug violation.

Suppose you have been out celebrating the New Year with your friends, and downed a few beers in the process despite the fact that you had just a light dinner hours earlier. While at the bar, you get a call about a family emergency, so you quickly say your goodbyes and leave, desperate to get home and be with your loved ones. You’re weaving a bit, and you know that this isn’t the smartest thing you’ve ever done, but you need to get home. On the way, you get pulled over and the cop smells alcohol on your breath. He makes you go through several field sobriety tests, and the clock ticks away. You’re concerned about your family, so you get agitated. The officer decides you are behaving in a threatening manner in addition to doing poorly on your sobriety tests. He runs your information and finds out that this isn’t the first time you’ve made the poor decision to drive after drinking a bit. Congratulations, because you’re starting 2013 with a felony drug violation.

These are situations that we hope never to find ourselves in, but regrettably, mistakes happen. There are extenuating circumstances; we have low moments; any number of things can drive us to make decisions we would not normally make. Unfortunately, some of these decisions can result in the unknowing or accidental commission of felonies.

Some of those felonies are drug violations, which means that on January 1, 2013, those felony drug violations will trigger this new law and allow police officers in Illinois to use wiretaps while they investigate you. Your personal conversations, conducted in public on your cell phone or even in the privacy of your home with a family member, can be recorded by the state and used against you, all in the name of justice.

This is far from justice - it is the erosion of civil liberties. Be aware of these changes going into effect in Illinois and be better able to protect yourself.

But if mistakes happen, be sure to know who to call. The Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd., has more than 35 years of experience defending drug cases, and our attorneys are available to help you in your time of need.  If you are under investigation for or charged with a drug crime call (708) 481-4800 to speak with a criminal lawyer 24/7.

A new exception has been added, and allows a law enforcement officer, or a person acting at the direction of a law enforcement officer, to record or listen with the aid of an eavesdropping device to a conversation in the course of an investigation of a felony drug violation. Instead of a court order, the wiretap can occur if approved by a State’s Attorney. The person listening or recording must be a party to the conversation.

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