According to a report released this month by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, courts in Nevada authorized 38.2 electronic wiretaps for every 500,000 residents of the state in 2013. It is the highest number of wiretaps per person in the nation – more than three times the rate for the next highest state, Colorado.
Courts in Nevada authorized 213 wiretaps, or “intercept orders.” The federal U.S. District of Nevada issued 26, and state courts in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and Henderson, issued 187, meaning the overwhelming majority of wiretaps were in the Las Vegas area. Though federal officials only actually executed one, Clark County installed 178. The wiretaps results in 725 incriminating intercepts, according to the report.
The wiretaps resulted in 134 people being arrested and 78 people being convicted in Nevada, all due to orders issued by Clark County. It is a significantly higher conviction rate than the nation, in which only 19 percent of arrests due to a wiretap resulted in a conviction.
The vast majority of these wiretaps (97 percent for the nation, 100 percent for Nevada) are for portable devices, including cell phones and digital pagers. Using a wiretap, police can listen in on a suspect’s conversations and collect evidence to be used against that person.
Every intercept order authorized in Nevada in 2013 was for a narcotics charge. Nationwide, drug offenses are the reason behind about 90 percent of wiretaps, according to an analysis of the report by the Pew Research Center.
The Pew Research Center could not confirm any reason why Nevada would be at the top of the list. However, Las Vegas law enforcement officials told the Las Vegas Review-Journal they believed they were simply more effective at obtaining them. The Clark County District Attorney’s Office has two federally funded prosecutors who work full time on drug cases, the Review-Journal reported.
Conversations obtained by a wiretap may seem like damning evidence. However, even if obtained by a warrant (always a requirement for a wiretap), this evidence is not always admissible. To obtain an order, law enforcement must show probable cause that the suspect is committing a crime listed in the Wiretap Act, that a communication against that crime will be intercepted, and that the phone is used in connection with the offense.
Your attorney may be able to call into question the grounds on which the intercept order was obtained. If the order was wrongly obtained, all evidence obtained may be determined to be “fruit of a poisoned tree.”