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When Can New Jersey Police Use Wiretapping?

phone lines

Have you been charged with a crime following a wiretap by law enforcement? New Jersey law enforcement officials possess the power to use wiretaps to monitor and record communication and information sent over a land line phone or cell phone in order to obtain evidence against you in certain situations. However, police must operate under specific guidelines that control and regulate how wiretapping must be conducted. Evidence not procured according to these guidelines can be suppressed (inadmissible in court). If you have been charged after law enforcement gained information from a wiretap, contact an experienced attorney to protect your rights. The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey possess the experience and knowledge needed to handle wiretapping and other electronic evidence.

New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act

The Wiretapping & Electronic Surveillance Control Act, under N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-1, regulates the specifics of just when and how law enforcement can intercept wiretaps or recording of any electronic or oral communications. This interception by police officers is clearly defined within the law and must follow strict guidelines, otherwise a knowledgeable attorney can challenge the information that was gathered and collected. Certain communications do not need to follow these guidelines, including telephone conversations where the police are a party of the conversation, if the telephone conversation include a prison inmate that is currently incarcerated, or whenever any party to the telephone conversation has consented to the recording.

Criminal Activities Where Police can Use a Wiretap

Wiretaps can only be used in connection with procuring evidence for certain criminal activities. According to N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-8, these offenses include:

  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Gambling
  • Robbery
  • Bribery
  • Arson
  • Armed burglary
  • Theft
  • Jeopardizing the safety of a child
  • Escape
  • Forgery
  • Illegal production, acquisition, use, or transfer of weapons
  • Illegal possession or use of explosives or other destructive devices
  • Managing any organized criminal activities
  • Any organized criminal activity involving illegal production, acquisition, use, or transfer of any harmful or hazardous material
  • Distribution of drugs
  • Any conspiracy to commit any of the above offenses

Process for Establishing a Wiretap

Typically, when law enforcement applies for a valid wiretap they must take certain steps in order to avoid infringing on your legal rights. Otherwise, the wiretap information may not be allowed to be entered into court proceedings. Generally it starts with a police officer who is investigating possible criminal wrongdoing and is looking for more information and fills out a formal application that provides providing specific facts. This includes needing to display sufficient grounds to believe the interception of an electronic communication service is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation involving one of the above crimes. Then, the New Jersey Attorney General or the local county prosecutor will review the application and authorize the officer to go before a judge to approve the wiretap. Once presented to a judge, the judge will make the final determination that there is or is not a very good reason to assume that the person who will be wiretapped and have their personal information intercepted is engaged in one of the criminal activities as listed by the police officer. If the judges authorizes a wiretap or any other electronic surveillance, they may place certain restrictions on how it is conducted.

What if Law Enforcement Improperly Wiretaps Someone?

Failure to comply with these strict guidelines can result in the suppression of the evidence obtained by the wiretap. According to N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-21, anyone who is negatively affected by wiretap may file a court motion so that the information from the wiretaps cannot be used in a court case. Since most people do not know how to properly file this motion, it is wise to have an attorney file this for you. The recording and any evidence found therein may be suppressed and deemed unlawful under any of the following grounds:

  • The wiretap was not procured in conformity with the New Jersey Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act;
  • The legal order that authorized the wiretap was in any way deficient and had errors; or
  • The wiretap was not procured in the specific way that the order was specified by the judge.

If any of these elements were not properly followed, the wiretap and any evidence found therein may be deemed inadmissible and cannot be used against you in a criminal trial regardless of what is contained in the information that was recorded.

NJ Police Wiretaps Differ From Personal Recordings

New Jersey police have to follow different rules and procedures when it comes to wiretapping than private citizens have to follow when they wiretap other people, which may happen during divorce proceedings. In New Jersey, private citizens can only record conversations in which they are a direct participant. People can not record the phone calls of other people when they are not a part of the phone call. If the private citizen is directly involved in a phone conversation and records the conversation, they may legally provide the police with a copy of that conversation even if the police denied a wiretap.

Wiretapping and Email

Wiretapping and electronic surveillance focuses on information that is being transmitted. If police are denied a wiretap or electronic surveillance order, the police may still gain access to your email after the fact. If you store your email on a computer, then police may apply for a search warrant that would allow them to review your emails. The New Jersey legal system tends to lag behind advances in technology, so it is best to consult with an experienced attorney on how best to handle surveillance and the latest technology which you may be using.

Defending Wiretapping Cases

If you find yourself in a situation where you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense due to information gained from a wiretap, contact an experienced attorney to fight your case. The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca possess the knowledge and experience needed to properly defend a case involving wiretapping, including the filing of a motion to suppress the evidence found in the wiretap. We can help you if you are facing charges in any of the courts in Ocean County or Monmouth County, New Jersey.

Contact Us Today

Villani & DeLuca, P.C. is committed to answering your questions about Divorce & Family Law, Criminal Defense, Personal Injury, and DWI & Traffic Law issues in New Jersey. We offer a Free Consultation and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.