FedAgent — D.C. Circuit finds that a warrant to place a recording device outside of authorizing judge's jurisdiction invalid

Lonell Glover was suspected of being involved in the distribution of PCP and heroin. The FBI tapped Mr. Glover’s cellular phone, but Mr. Glover was careful only to speak in code. However, Mr. Glover was known to have meetings with suspected associates in his truck, and so the FBI obtained a warrant from Judge Rosemary Collyer of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

As the government noted, Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (“Title III”), which establishes the general rules for federal wire taps, at 18 U.S.C. § 2518(3) permits a judge to “authoriz[e] or approv[e] interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting (and outside that jurisdiction but within the United States in the case of a mobile interception device authorized by a Federal court within such jurisdiction).”

The court of appeals disagreed with the government’s argument that this allowed for a federal judge to authorize the placement of a tap anywhere in the United States, explaining that: “[t]o be sure, the parenthetical phrase is somewhat ambiguous. It seems reasonable to read the words ‘such jurisdiction’ in the phrase as referring back to the jurisdiction in which the judge is sitting; i.e., in this case, the District of Columbia, since the provision mentions no other jurisdiction. It is also possible that the phrase, by implication, refers to the jurisdiction in which the mobile interception device is installed. Under either reading, the parenthetical makes clear that a judge cannot authorize the interception of communications if the mobile interception device was not validly authorized, and a device cannot be validly authorized if, at the time the warrant is issued, the property on which the device is to be installed is not located in the authorizing judge’s jurisdiction. A contrary reading would render the phrase ‘authorized by a Federal court within such jurisdiction’ completely superfluous.”

Read more at FedAgent.