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Ruling Provides Guidance To Law Enforcement On Wiretap Applications


MADISON - Evidence obtained through a court-authorized wiretap order for investigation of drug dealing did not have to be suppressed solely because the order also listed other offenses under investigation for which wiretaps cannot be authorized, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled today. The decision upheld the Milwaukee County conviction of Jeffrey A. House, 36, for conspiracy to deliver controlled substances. House was one of 30 defendants charged as a result of a large scale investigation into trafficking in cocaine, ecstasy and heroin led by the Milwaukee High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area / Drug Gang Task Force. He was sentenced to two years and six months of initial confinement and three years and six months of extended supervision.


State law permits wiretaps to be used only with a court order, under very restricted circumstances, as a last resort in an investigation, and only for a limited list of offenses. These offenses, including dealing in controlled substances, are referred to as "enumerated offenses." The ruling held that because the wiretap order was otherwise proper and sufficient to justify wiretaps for enumerated offenses, the inclusion of non-enumerated offenses did not undermine the privacy protections of the statute and did not require suppression of the wiretap evidence. In this case, the intercepted conversations concerned only delivery of controlled substances and House was charged and convicted only of controlled substances offenses.


State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, whose office by law reviews wiretap applications and handled the appeal, praised the court's ruling. "Wiretaps are a rarely used but very important tool in the investigation of large-scale organized crime, such as drug-trafficking organizations. Today's ruling gives law enforcement and courts clear guidance on drafting wiretap applications orders and adopts a common-sense test to determine when wiretap evidence should be suppressed."


In the past ten years there has been an average of fewer than three state wiretap orders each year.


The Milwaukee High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area/Gang Task Force is a coordinated interagency law enforcement strategy to target the drug, gang, and violent criminal activity in the metropolitan Milwaukee area. Law enforcement participants include the Milwaukee Police Department, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department, the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.


The State of Wisconsin was represented in the Supreme Court by Assistant Attorney General Juan B. Colas. The State was represented at the trial court level by Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Kent Lovern.