Ease restrictions on state wiretaps
State House and Senate judiciary chairwomen have agreed on a bill to relax state restrictions on wiretaps.
AFTER years of Hawaii law-enforcement leaders calling for easing the procedure for gaining permission to use wiretaps
, they appear to be getting results from the Legislature. Chairwomen of the House and Senate judiciary committees have cleared for enactment a bill that would improve law-enforcement efforts by making Hawaii's procedures similar to federal rules.
The state's law enforcement coalition asked for changes in the law during the Cayetano administration four years ago, and Governor Lingle has called for the changes since taking office in 2003. Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa has been reluctant to change the wiretap law in the past but says public outrage about drug and property crimes requires a response.
In order to obtain authorization for a wiretap, county prosecutors now must go before a judge along with a court-appointed lawyer who acts as "devil's advocate" representing the privacy rights of the person targeted for surveillance. Hawaii is the only state with such an oppressive procedure, according to Attorney General Mark Bennett.
Hawaii county prosecutors have chosen not to use wiretaps because of the cumbersome process. They have expressed concern that the procedure could jeopardize investigations. In addition, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo has been prevented from transferring scores of cases to county prosecutors because federal wiretap laws don't require the adversarial hearings. He has said the state restrictions have disposed of a useful tool in combatting the trafficking of crystal methamphetamine.
More than a thousand requests a year are granted by state courts for eavesdropping, most of them for gaining access to portable devices such as cellular phones, pagers and cordless phones. By eliminating the adversarial hearings and tailoring the state law to conform with federal law, prosecutors in Hawaii finally should be able to use that valuable tool.
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