Controversy over Wiretap Evidence in Massachusetts Murder
HBO’s popular crime drama The Wire shows how critical the use of police wiretapping can be in large-scale drug investigations. Now, a real-life murder investigation hinges on whether or not prosecutors are allowed to introduce evidence gathered by such electronic eavesdropping.
Wickedlocal.com reports that Deryck Long, a 39-year-old Boston man, has been charged with the 2006 murder of Jamal Vaughan. Shortly after the murder, Long was being held in prison and apparently had a seven-minute conversation with a female visitor on the prison visitors’ phone.
Police officers recorded the conversation, according to boston.com, during which records show that Long noted that he “had no remorse” and hinted at the involvement of accomplices in the murder. The conversation allegedly includes Long’s explanation of the events leading up to the murder: he had a bad temper; he got angry when Vaughan didn’t listen to him; he tries to convince his friend to provide him with a false alibi; he hopes the conversation doesn’t give him away.
As it turns out, it might not have.
Sources indicate that prosecutors are pushing for the jurors in Long’s trial to see the transcript of the taped conversation. But current Massachusetts law only permits wiretapping in cases involving organized crime or when all other options have been exhausted.
A Superior Court judge has evidently ruled that because Vaughan’s shooting is only a “garden variety” murder and not part of a larger circle of crime, the wiretap evidence is inadmissible. Further, the judge allegedly claimed that police officers misled the court in order to get permission to set up the wiretap in the first place. But prosecutors, it seems, plan to appeal that decision.
If the evidence is allowed, it will mean an expansion of how and when police can use wiretapping to investigate criminal cases, a move that some criminal lawyers may find unappealing.
The president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers reportedly commented that the restrictions on wiretapping are in place to protect innocent people from privacy invasions. And it makes sense that police shouldn’t have access to private conversations unless they have reasonable suspicion that those conversations could seriously aid an investigation.
Those in favor of expanding wiretapping applicability, though, apparently believe that the current law is outmoded and needs to be updated to remain relevant in today’s criminal world.