A bill that would allow some wiretapping in certain criminal cases passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Rep. Rex Reynolds introduced the legislation, which would permit the state use of electronic communication interception in cases that involve drug trafficking.
Currently, the only legal method of wiretapping in the state comes through federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and DEA. The new legislation would provide for state law enforcement to have the capabilities to intercept communications via phone, internet, and related communications. The bill would allow for an officer or agent of the law to obtain authorization for a wiretap by submitting a request to the Attorney General (AG). The AG would then review the evidence and, upon determining probable cause, would submit the request to a judge in the district of the alleged crime. The district judge would then determine the veracity of the evidence and conclude if the requesting agency has probable cause to request the wiretap.
The bill is titled the Billy Clardy Act. The namesake is derived from a Huntsville law enforcement officer who was killed in an undercover drug bust in December 2019. Clardy was killed while attempting to arrest a man who was there to sell Clardy and others over 100 pounds of marijuana. Reynolds said he believes the proposed wiretapping technology would prevent another death like Clardy's in the future.
"I've talked to the Sheriff's Association, the District Attorney's office, and the State Bureau of Investigation, and they all support this," Reynolds said.
The wiretapping would require the use of specialized machines that are manufactured specifically to intercept communications. According to Reynolds, the devices would be specifically under the care and supervision of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA,) and any agency that desires to use the machines would require permission from the ALEA.
The bill would specifically apply to drug trafficking, but any extraneous evidence acquired through a wiretap would be admissible in court.
For the most common drugs, the minimum amount to be considered trafficking must be equal to or more than 2.2 pounds of cannabis, 28 grams of amphetamines or cocaine, four grams of heroin, and one gram of fentanyl.
The bill received a favorable report from the House Judiciary Committee, with no “nay” votes.
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