United States v. Chavez
Annotate this Case
416 U.S. 562 (1974)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Chavez, 416 U.S. 562 (1974)
United States v. Chavez
Argued January 8, 1974
Decided May 13, 1974
416 U.S. 562
Under Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 each application for a court order authorizing the interception of a wire or oral communication, 18 U.S.C. § 2518(1)(a), and each interception order, 18 U.S.C. § 2518(4)(d), must identify the officer authorizing the application, and the Attorney General, or an Assistant Attorney General specially designated by him, may authorize the application, 18 U.S.C. § 2516(1). The contents of intercepted communications, or evidence derived therefrom, may not be received in evidence at a trial if the disclosure of the information would be "in violation of" Title III, 18 U.S.C. § 2515, and may be suppressed on the grounds, inter alia, that the communication was "unlawfully intercepted," 18 U.S.C. § 2518(10)(a)(i), or that the interception order was "insufficient on its face," 18 U.S.C. § 2518(10)(a)(ii). In this case, the applications and orders to wiretap the telephones of respondents Chavez and Fernandez, two narcotics offense suspects, incorrectly identified an Assistant Attorney General as the official authorizing the applications, whereas, with respect to Chavez, it had been the Attorney General, and, with respect to Fernandez, the Attorney General's Executive Assistant. After Chavez, Fernandez, and the other respondents were indicted, the District Court, on respondents' motions, held that the evidence secured through both wiretaps had to be suppressed for failure of the applications or orders to identify the individual who actually authorized the application, and further, as to the Fernandez wiretap, because neither the Attorney General nor a specially designated Assistant Attorney General authorized the application. The Court of Appeals affirmed in all respects.
1. Because the application for the interception order on the Fernandez phone was authorized by the Attorney General's Executive Assistant, rather than by the Attorney General or any specially designated Assistant Attorney General, on whom alone § 2516(1) confers such power, evidence secured under that order
2. Misidentifying the Assistant Attorney General as the official authorizing the Chavez wiretap, when the Attorney General himself actually gave the approval, was in no sense the omission of a requirement that must be satisfied if wiretapping or electronic surveillance is to be lawful under Title III, and hence does not require suppression of the wiretap evidence. United States v. Giordano, supra, distinguished. Pp. 416 U. S. 570-580.
(a) Where it is established that responsibility for approval of the application is fixed in the Attorney General, compliance with the screening requirements of Title III is assured, and there is no justification for suppression. Pp. 416 U. S. 571-572.
(b) The interception order was not "insufficient on its face" within the meaning of § 2618(10)(a)(ii), since the order clearly identified "on its face" the Assistant Attorney General as the person authorizing the application, he being a person who, under § 2516(1), could properly give such approval if specially designated to do so as the order recited, notwithstanding this was subsequently shown to be incorrect. Pp. 416 U. S. 573-574.
(c) The misidentification of the officer authorizing the wiretap application did not affect the fulfillment of any of the reviewing or approval functions required by Congress, and, by itself, does not render the interception conducted under the order "unlawful" within the meaning of § 2518(10)(a)(i) or the disclosure of the content of the interceptions, or derivative evidence, otherwise "in violation of" Title III within the meaning of § 2515, there being no legislative history concerning §§ 2518(1)(a) and (4)(d) to suggest that they were meant, by themselves, to occupy a central, or even functional, role in guarding against unwarranted use of wiretapping or electronic surveillance. Pp. 416 U. S. 574-580.
478 F.2d 512, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 416 U. S. 580.