(CN) – The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that court orders allowing law enforcement to monitor twin brothers’ cellphone communications were lawful even though the drug-trafficking suspects were still under surveillance when they moved outside the court’s jurisdiction.
As recounted during oral arguments in February, brothers Los and Roosevelt Dahda began their life as drug trafficker in 2006 after they joined a drug ring operated by three other men.
Federal prosecutors claim Los would drive from Kansas to California to purchase marijuana, and then package his haul on the west coast before loading it into crates headed for the Midwest.
While this was going on, authorities said, Los’ brother Roosevelt managed the product and cash flow.
An investigation by the Drug Enforcement Agency prompted agents to seek permission from a federal judge in Kansas to intercept the Dahdas’ communications inside the state and as they traveled over state lines.
While most of the evidence gathered from the surveillance took place in Kansas, some communications were also intercepted from a listening post in Missouri.
Prior to their trial on drug-trafficking charges, the Dahdas brothers moved to suppress the information obtained from the wiretaps on the grounds that the court orders exceeded the district court’s territorial jurisdiction.
However, the government agreed not to introduce any evidence from the surveillance conducted in Missouri. The trial court ruled against the brothers, and both were found guilty and sentenced.
On appeal, the 10th Circuit rejected the Dahdas’ argument that the wiretap orders were facially insufficient, finding that the challenged language authorizing surveillance outside Kansas did not “implicate Congress’s core concerns” in enacting the wiretap statute.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who heard the case in the 10th Circuit before his ascension to the U.S. Supreme Court, did not participate in the Denver-based appeals court’s decision. He likewise did not get involved in the high court’s decision to take up the Dahdas’ case, or in the final ruling itself.
On Monday, the nation’s highest court affirmed the 10th Circuit and ruled 8-0 that the wiretap orders at issue are not facially insufficient because they were not missing any information required by statute and would have been sufficient if they didn’t include a sentence approving interception of communications outside the court’s jurisdiction.
Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion, writing that the court “cannot find any respect in which the orders are deficient or lacking in anything necessary or requisite.”
“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,” Breyer wrote. “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.”
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