Police

How Cops Hide Surveillance Snooping From Courts

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In 2004, Ascension Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend were stopped at a traffic light in Oregon when their car was rear-ended by a drunk driver. The police arrived and arrested the drunk, but while Alverez-Tejeda was outside dealing with the situation, a thief jumped in his car and tore off down the road.

Police recovered the car and, after obtaining a search warrant from a judge, found in it cocaine and methamphetamine that Alverez-Tejeda was trafficking from California to Washington.

It looked like a case of very bad luck for Alverez-Tejeda. The truth didn't come out until the trial: The whole thing had been staged. The only ones who weren't in on the plot were Alverez-Tejeda, his girlfriend, and the judge who signed the warrant. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), relying on surveillance and wiretaps, had tipped off local law enforcement to Alverez-Tejeda. The cops then constructed an elaborate ruse to gain probable cause to search his car.

Alverez-Tejeda's case—ultimately upheld by a federal appeals court in 2007—is a particularly complicated example of "parallel construction," a tactic used by law enforcement to hide its investigative methods from courts and defendants by building another plausible evidence chain. A January report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which examined 95 similar cases, says federal agencies may be regularly laundering intelligence information to each other, as well as to local law enforcement, to build criminal investigations while concealing the origins of the evidence. The report argues parallel construction raises numerous civil rights concerns, chiefly the right to a fair trial.

"When you have parallel construction, you have defendants and even judges who don't know how evidence was gathered and can't challenge the constitutionality of that," Human Rights Watch researcher Sarah St. Vincent says. "What you have is very one-sided, where the government, on its own, is deciding what practices it thinks are legal."

St. Vincent argues parallel construction can hide illegal searches that violate defendants' Fourth Amendment rights or result in exculpatory evidence not being turned over, violating the Fifth Amendment. It can also hide discriminatory actions by law enforcement.

Reuters first published details about the practice in a 2013 investigation that revealed that the DEA's Special Operations Division—whose activities earned it the nickname "the dark side"—was regularly funneling tips obtained from wiretaps, surveillance, and a massive telephone database to field agents and other law enforcement agencies, all while training its agents on how to keep the source of the tips from ending up in court. A subsequent USA Today investigation found the DEA and Justice Department had been collecting logs of billions of phone calls originating from the U.S. in a program that predated 9/11 by more than a decade.

The HRW report cites one case, Arizona v. Wakil, where the DEA requested a so-called "whisper stop" from local police to conceal the agency's warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspected drug trafficker's rental car. An Arizona judge overturned the defendant's conviction only after that fact emerged in federal court.

Although much of the investigative reporting on parallel construction has focused on the DEA, Human Rights Watch found that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI had all requested such stops.

At times, prosecutors have withdrawn charges or offered significant plea deals to defendants in cases that threatened to expose details of how law enforcement uses cellphone tracking technology. Several police departments have claimed that nondisclosure agreements with the FBI prohibit them from releasing any information on the devices.

The HRW report recommends that Congress pass laws requiring the government to disclose the origins of evidence and investigations to defendants. Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) also called for a ban in a January op-ed at Reason. "Government should be disallowed from taking that information and developing a parallel construction of a case, where the illegally obtained information is not used in court but is used by law enforcement to develop other information to mount a prosecution," Paul wrote. "Our Founders gave us the Fourth Amendment to prevent a tyrannical government from invading our privacy, and we are fools to relinquish that hard-won right because of fear."

But because of the practice's very nature, it's hard to know how often defendants are being charged and convicted based on secret evidence. "The problem with researching a coverup," St. Vincent says, "is you're not supposed to know what happened."

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64 responses to “How Cops Hide Surveillance Snooping From Courts

  1. Where are the Constitution police? Where’s the Department of Constitutional Law Enforcement? We need to put these evil cops who lie and cheat in prison. I promise you when I read this about this happening I lose a little allegiance to this country. A place like this isn’t worth defending.

    1. “When in the course of human events…”

      1. Better hurry! The bill of rights is decimated, and the second wave is beginning.

      2. Those words were written by wild and free men. Their domesticated descendants couldn’t give a shit.

        1. Those wild and free men weren’t so interested in the average bloke’s freedom.

    2. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      1. Or at least a Bureau of Sabotage, “In Lieu of Red Tape.”

        BuSab needs to be officially recognized as a necessary check on the power of government. It would also provide a natural (and sometimes lucrative) outlet for society’s regular crop of troublemakers.

      2. my Aunt Kyliyrecently got a very nice BMW X3S just by some part time working online with a computer. take a look at the site here http://www.richdeck.com

    3. “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

      -Mark Twain

    4. Just let go. You’ll never miss the idea of America once you give it up.

    5. “A place like this isn’t worth defending”

      I’m north of 60 years old. I used to fly the flag. I don’t anymore, mainly because of what I see in copping and the rest of the so-called “justice system”.

      And this comes from a Republican, that has never been arrested and hasn’t had a speeding ticket since 1977.

      American cops: Kiss my ass.Stay away from me, as you’re completely untrustworthy. Don’t move into my neighborhood. Stay away from my wife. Shove your radar guns and lie detectors up your ass. Go suck off the prosecutors and judges that are just as bad as you. We have no idea how easily we could get along, if we culled about 75% of your dangerous, worthless asses from the ranks.

      1. Yes. Except the only USA flag I fly is upside-down. They used it against me, (us), in a newspaper article once or twice.

    6. What is needed is to give citizens the power to prosecute government officials for crimes, under the same procedures government agencies use to prosecute us.

  2. Holy cow. This reads like something from a police thriller movie.

  3. This is another example of why the exclusionary rule is a very bad way to enforce the 4th Amendment. If the police violate your rights, the only possible sanction is the evidence they obtain not being admissible in court. That is not a remedy at all if you are innocent or never charged. What good does the right to have illegally obtained evidence suppressed if the police never found any evidence when they violated your rights? None. And even if you are charged and the evidence is suppressed, as this example shows, that doesn’t do you any good if the police have other evidence to use against you. You are still just as convicted either way.

    The other problem with the exclusionary rule is that it has caused the public to view the 4th Amendment as some legal technicality that exists to let guilty people go free. Indeed, thanks to the exclusionary rule that is pretty much what it is. If you are never charged with a crime or commit a crime, the 4th Amendment does exactly jack and shit to protect your privacy or benefit you.

    1. I think the exclusionary rule should be discarded. The fact that the police did something illegal shouldn’t allow you to get away with a crime. The remedy for them doing that should be the police being punished. Conducting an illegal search should be a crime and the police who do it should go to jail right along with whatever other criminals they catch with the illegal search. Police don’t give a shit if evidence is suppressed. They made the arrest. The rest is the DA’s problem. And judges are loath to let guilty people walk and have ended up making the 4th Amendment a dead letter in many ways as they tortured the law to ensure a conviction in one case after another. Make the 4th Amendment an actual restriction on government rather than a get out of jail card for criminals, and people might start respecting it again.

      1. The remedy for them doing that should be the police being punished.

        Fat chance of that ever happening. Heroes can do no wrong. The end justifies the means. Law and Order is a documentary.

        1. The fact that we refuse to hold police accountable for any misconduct up to and including murder is a big problem but a separate one from the 4th Amendment.

          1. I would say that they go hand in hand. Cops routinely violate the 4A, criminally in many cases, and know that the worst that may happen is the evidence being excluded. That’s only if the accused can afford a good attorney instead of being assigned and overwhelmed public pretender who only cares about copping a plea and moving onto the next case. They know they won’t be held accountable for their crimes.

            1. Why should the state benefit from an illegal search? Let the accused perp walk and punish the cops.

              1. Why should the victim of a crime go without justice because the cops did something wrong? The state doesn’t benefit from this. The victim does.

                1. Why should the victim of a crime go without justice because the cops did something wrong?

                  I’ll would bet that the vast majority of the cases where the cops conduct illegal searches, if not all of them, are victimless crimes.

                  1. I’d argue the person being illegally searched is the victim of a crime by said cops. The law being violated is the supreme law of the land, the US constitution. This is regardless of the person having committed any crime.

              2. Why should the state benefit from an illegal search? Let the accused perp walk and punish the cops.

                Sarcasm? If not, how does that punish the cops? How does “the state” benefit from an illegal search?

                There is no state. There’s just people. Analyze it like that & see who the victims are.

    2. As far as I can tell, most people view everyone the police arrest as guilty, and anyone who is found innocent as getting away with a crime. I blame television programs where the heroes with power show complete and total disdain for the Constitution and our rights in general.

      1. TV has a lot to do with it. Most people have no idea how criminal justice actually works. How would they? It is a nasty job and not something they would have any reason or desire to be associated with. So what they know comes from entertainment and the media. If they actually knew how bad it is, they would be shocked.

        1. Most “criminal justice” revolves around victimless crimes. I do not know a single person who has been a crime victim, including myself and my family, and gotten any justice. Not a one. Quite the opposite. Often reporting a crime is pretext to be searched and ran for warrants. But I know many people who have been through the wringer for committing acts that negatively affected no one.
          For example my eight year old daughter was sexually assaulted at a hospital last year. After reporting it to DHHS a detective was nice enough to call me on the phone and tell me he can’t do anything about it except file a report.

          1. Her half brother molested her as well. His dad is a cop. Nothing else happened.

          2. It’s a good thing my ex left me when she did. Had that bastard been here when I found out what he did, I probably would have shot him.

            1. Jesus. If you haven’t murdered anyone over that, you’re a better man than i would have been.

              1. At the very least, certain dirtbags would have lost body parts.

              2. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

                1. [taps side of nose with finger]

          3. Justice is a limited commodity. You can only hire so many police and so many judges and create so many courts. At some point, you encounter the law of diminishing returns as you run out of people who are fit for those jobs. So there is only a given amount of justice that can be delivered. The more laws you have and the more criminal cases you make, the less the chance of justice being done in each individual case. Justice isn’t being done in real criminal cases because the system is overloaded with fake criminal cases that eat at the ability to do justice and obtain the proper outcome in each individual case.

            1. Well stated. That concept is sadly lost on those with “there ought to be a LAW!” magical thinking.

              Sadly I think most of the country is way past that tipping point.

            2. It is impossible for me to overstate how much I agree with you here.

      2. I blame television programs where the heroes with power show complete and total disdain for the Constitution and our rights in general.

        That’s because those are the only interesting stories. Ones where everyone obeys the law are dull. Good thing you’re not a pro wrestling impresario.

    3. even if you are charged and the evidence is suppressed, as this example shows, that doesn’t do you any good if the police have other evidence to use against you. You are still just as convicted either way.

      Not only that, but this example shows that the exclusionary rule gives them a motive to fuck you the heck up! Ramming your car with your girlfriend in it?!!

  4. Police recovered the car and, after obtaining a search warrant from a judge, found in it cocaine and methamphetamine that Alverez-Tejeda was trafficking from California to Washington.

    Or that the “thief” had planted there?

    I wonder how many courts are okay with essentially being lied to by law enforcement.

    1. Beyond the surveillance issues here, the fact that the drugs were recovered from the car after it was stolen should be reasonable doubt they were his. Unless the government can show the thief ran the car into a wall shortly after stealing it and there is no way they could be his, only a first-class brain-dead judge would even let that case go before a jury.

      1. It’s an interesting dilemma for police. They could record the entire encounter to prove that nothing was planted, but their ruse would be undone when said video evidence was shown to the judge. Unless they thought they could credibly claim a car thief would record his own misdeed. Or defense wasn’t allowed to question the gap in vehicle possession.

        1. As has been noted on Reason before, standard police procedure would seem to be to record the encounter, lie about it anyway, and then hope the defendant couldn’t afford a lawyer.

    2. “‘How do we know the thief wasn’t a member of law enforcement “”

    3. It’s pretty clear that courts don’t mind at all. They do, however, get pretty angry when they are put in a position where they have to pretend to be outraged, for a few minutes, at comps when cops get caught committing perjury, before going back to business as usual.

  5. The only reason you would regard clandestine investigation with suspicion is if you regard those who engage in clandestine investigation with suspicion and what have these people ever done to make you suspect they might not be the most noble, upstanding, irreproachable, purest-hearted individuals of the finest sort? Besides the clandestine investigation, I mean.

  6. but while Alverez-Tejeda was outside dealing with the situation, a thief jumped in his car and tore off down the road.

    Alverez-Tejeda: Yes, that cocaine and meth is mine, not planted by the car thief who stole my car.

    1. If the police ask you to get out of the car, LOCK THE CAR!

      1. EVEN IF IT’S ON FIRE!!

  7. On a lighter note….

    On March 10, the main span of the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge was lifted from its temporary supports, rotated 90 degrees across an eight-lane thoroughfare, and lowered into its permanent position.

    “FIU is about building bridges and student safety. This project accomplishes our mission beautifully,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “We are filled with pride and satisfaction at seeing this engineering feat come to life and connect our campus to the surrounding community where thousands of our students live.”

    …..

    “This project is an outstanding example of the ABC method,” said chair of FIU’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Department and director of FIU’s ABC-UTC Atorod Azizinamini, who is one of the world’s leading experts on Accelerated Bridge Construction. “Building the major element of the bridge ? its main span superstructure ? outside of the traveled way and away from busy Eighth Street is a milestone.”

    1. This bridge?

      ‘Multiple’ people crushed to death as 950-ton pedestrian bridge collapses on top of cars and pedestrians on Florida college campus – just five days after it was installed
      Pedestrian bridge linking two parts of Florida International University campus collapsed on Thursday
      The 950-ton bridge was installed last Saturday and had not yet been open to pedestrian traffic
      Police say there are ‘multiple deaths’ as well as a number of cars and motorists trapped underneath the rubble
      FIU touted the bridge’s construction as a huge success since it was built within a day and installed Saturday

    2. FIU is about building bridges and student safety.

      This was one of those pick-one-or-fail-at-both scenarios, wasn’t it.

      1. I’m sure everybody involved will be touting their “amazing” leadership in getting the bridge built. They gave the bridge all the training and the tools it needed to do the job, it’s not their fault the bridge immediately pancaked instead of doing its job.

  8. * The whole thing had been staged. The only ones who weren’t in on the plot were Alverez-Tejeda, his girlfriend, and the judge who signed the warrant. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), relying on surveillance and wiretaps, had tipped off local law enforcement to Alverez-Tejeda. The cops then constructed an elaborate ruse to gain probable cause to search his car.*

    Wait… the police staged the drunk driver and the car thief? Huh?

    1. Surveillance and wiretaps weren’t enough to secure a warrant, but they can ram a car based on them?

      1. Warrants are boring, but ramming and then stealing a car is action-movie fun.

      2. They didn’t have any of that. They had a tipoff from the DEA to do this arrest. The DEA would not give then the evidence they had because it was either illegally acquired or they didn’t want to ‘reveal sources’.

        So yes, *everyone* at the scene other than Tejada and his passenger we’re working together. Including the ‘car thief’ who hit him. That was part of the plan.

    2. One wonders if the car thief was prosecuted.

      1. Cops don’t get prosecuted for doing cop work. Ever.

        1. A really smart cop acting as the thief would’ve “played” it to the hilt by not playing it. He would’ve taken off w the car & the loot. Think about it. The cops aren’t allowed to let on that they know his whereabouts or that he’s in their employ.

  9. Stalin would be pleased.

  10. Waitaminnit! Surely OUR “members of a secret band of robbers and murderers” wouldn’t do such a thing, right? I mean, what about the democratic election process, and the looters who count the votes?

  11. My favorite part of this article is Reason’s meticulous avoidance of mentioning the FBI.
    Good boy

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