New Jersey Supreme Court throws out evidence in child sex abuse case due to violation of state wiretap law

The New Jersey Supreme Court held in July that key evidence in a child sexual abuse case had to be suppressed due to a violation of the state’s wiretap laws. The statutory procedure for obtaining prosecutorial approval before placing a wiretap had to be strictly followed, the court concluded, and any wiretap evidence collected without such prior approval would be rendered inadmissible. State v. K.W. (Jul. 11, 2013).

 

The defendant in State v. K.W. was charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault and child endangerment in relation to the sexual abuse of his daughter over a two-year period. She reported the abuse when she was 13 and was referred to the Assistant Essex County Prosecutor, who proposed placing a wiretap on her mother’s phone line to gather evidence. The Assistant Prosecutor then sought approval for the wiretap from an authorized designee of the County Prosecutor, as required under the wiretap statute, and obtained an authorization from his supervisor. He was mistaken about his supervisor being an authorized designee, however, and didn’t obtain the necessary prosecutorial approval until after the wiretap had already been concluded.

 

In determining whether to suppress the wiretap evidence, the court looked to the history of the wiretap statute and the legislature’s emphasis on privacy and the need to prevent law enforcement from having unfettered discretion to spy on telephone conversations. With these concerns in mind the court found that the statute had to be strictly applied, with any deviation from the prior approval requirement resulting in suppression of the evidence. The wiretap evidence against K.W. had to be thrown own, accordingly, despite the fact that it had been collected in good faith. The prosecution could still rely on evidence collected under a search warrant for the defendant’s property, however, because it had been obtained independently of the wiretap.

 

For more information about fighting sex crimes charges in New Jersey, call the law offices of Palumbo & Renaud at 908-337-7353.