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Dahda v. United States

United States Supreme Court

May 14, 2018


          Argued February 21, 2018


         Under federal law, a judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only "within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting." 18 U.S.C. §2518(3). Here, a judge for the District of Kansas authorized nine wiretap Orders as part of a Government investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring in Kansas. For the most part, the Government intercepted communications from a listening post within Kansas. But each Order also contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas. Based on that authorization, the Government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri. Following the investigation, petitioners Los and Roosevelt Dahda were indicted for participating in an illegal drug distribution conspiracy. They moved to suppress the evidence derived from all the wiretaps under subparagraph (ii) of the wiretap statute's suppression provision because the language authorizing interception beyond the District Court's territorial jurisdiction rendered each Order "insufficient on its face." §2518(10)(a)(ii). The Government agreed not to introduce any evidence arising from its Missouri listening post, and the District Court denied the Dahdas' motion. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit rejected the Dahdas' facial-insufficiency argument on the ground that the challenged language did not implicate Congress' core statutory concerns in enacting the wiretap statute.

         Held: Because the Orders were not lacking any information that the statute required them to include and would have been sufficient absent the challenged language authorizing interception outside the court's territorial jurisdiction, the Orders were not facially insufficient. Pp. 6-12.

(a) The Tenth Circuit applied the "core concerns" test from United States v. Giordano, 416 U.S. 505, and held that subparagraph (ii) applies only where the insufficiency reflects an order's failure to satisfy the "statutory requirements that directly and substantially implement the congressional intention to limit the use of" wiretapping, id., at 527. The court identified two such core concerns and concluded that neither applies to the statute's territorial limitation. But Giordano involved a different suppression provision-subparagraph (i)-which applies only when a "communication was unlawfully intercepted." §2518(10)(a)(i). The underlying point of Giordano's limitation was to help distinguish subparagraph (i) of §2518(10)(a) from subparagraphs (ii) and (iii). It makes little sense to extend the "core concerns" test to subparagraph (ii) as well. Subparagraph (ii) therefore does not include a Giordano-like "core concerns" requirement. Pp. 6-8.
(b) That said, this Court also cannot fully endorse the Dahdas' interpretation of the statute. The Dahdas read subparagraph (ii) as applying to any legal defect that appears within the four corners of an order. Clearly, subparagraph (ii) covers at least an order's failure to include information required by §§2518(4)(a)-(e). But that does not mean that every defect that may conceivably appear in an order results in an insufficiency. Here, the sentence authorizing interception outside Kansas is surplus. Its presence is not connected to any other relevant part of the Orders. Absent the challenged language, every wiretap that produced evidence introduced at the Dahdas' trial was properly authorized under the statute. While the Orders do not specifically list the territorial area where they could lawfully take effect, they clearly set forth the authorizing judge's territorial jurisdiction-the District of Kansas. And the statute itself presumptively limits every Order's scope to the issuing court's territorial jurisdiction. This interpretation of the term "insufficient" does not, as the Dahdas contend, produce bizarre results. Rather, it makes sense of the suppression provision as a whole. Pp. 8-12.

853 F.3d 1101 (first judgment) and 852 F.3d 1282 (second judgment), affirmed.

          BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except GORSUCH, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.



         A federal statute allows judges to issue wiretap orders authorizing the interception of communications to help prevent, detect, or prosecute serious federal crimes. See Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. §2510 et seq. The statute requires the judge to find "probable cause" supporting issuance of the order, and it sets forth other detailed requirements governing both the application for a wiretap and the judicial order that authorizes it. See §2518.

         The statute provides for the suppression of "the contents of any wire or oral communication" that a wiretap "intercept[]" along with any "evidence derived therefrom" if

"(i) the communication was unlawfully intercepted;
"(ii) the order of . . . approval under which it was intercepted is insufficient on its face; or
"(iii) the interception was not made in conformity with the order of authorization or approval." §2518(10)(a).

         This litigation concerns the second of these provisions- the provision that governs the "insufficiency]" of an order "on its face." §2518(10)(a)(ii).

         Los and Roosevelt Dahda-defendants in the trial below and petitioners here-sought to suppress evidence derived from nine wiretap Orders used to obtain evidence of their participation in an unlawful drug distribution conspiracy. They argue that each Order is "insufficient on its face" because each contains a sentence authorizing interception "outside the territorial jurisdiction" of the authorizing judge, App. 97 (emphasis added), even though the statute normally allows a judge to authorize wiretaps only within his or her "territorial jurisdiction, " §2518(3).

         In deciding whether each Order was "insufficient on its face, " we assume that the Dahdas are right about the "territorial" requirement. That is to say, we assume the relevant sentence exceeded the judge's statutory authority. But none of the communications unlawfully intercepted outside the judge's territorial jurisdiction were introduced at trial, so the inclusion of the extra sentence had no significant adverse effect upon the Dahdas. Because the remainder of each Order was ...

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