Dahda v. United States,
584 U.S. ___ (2018)

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Justia Opinion Summary

A judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only “within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting,” 18 U.S.C. 2518(3). A District of Kansas judge authorized nine wiretap orders during the investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring. The government primarily intercepted communications from a Kansas listening post but each order contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas and the government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri. Defendants moved to suppress the evidence. The government agreed not to introduce any evidence arising from its Missouri listening post. The court denied the motion. The Tenth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Because the orders were not lacking any information that the statute required them to include and would have been sufficient absent the challenged language authorizing interception outside the court’s territorial jurisdiction, the orders were not "facially insufficient" under 2518(10)(a)(ii). While that subparagraph covers at least an order’s failure to include information required by 2518(4)(a)–(e), not every defect that may appear in an order results in an insufficiency. The sentence authorizing interception outside Kansas is surplus; absent the challenged language, every wiretap that produced evidence introduced at trial was properly authorized. The orders set forth the authorizing judge’s territorial jurisdiction and the statute presumptively limits every order’s scope to the issuing court’s territorial jurisdiction.

  • Syllabus  | 
  • Opinion (Stephen G. Breyer)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

Dahda v. United States

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 17–43. Argued February 21, 2018—Decided May 14, 2018[1]

Under federal law, a judge normally may issue a wiretap order permitting the interception of communications only “within the territorial jurisdiction of the court in which the judge is sitting.” 18 U. S. C. §2518(3). Here, a judge for the District of Kansas authorized nine wiretap Orders as part of a Government investigation of a suspected drug distribution ring in Kansas. For the most part, the Government intercepted communications from a listening post within Kansas. But each Order also contained a sentence purporting to authorize interception outside of Kansas. Based on that authorization, the Government intercepted additional communications from a listening post in Missouri. Following the investigation, petitioners Los and Roosevelt Dahda were indicted for participating in an illegal drug distribution conspiracy. They moved to suppress the evidence derived from all the wiretaps under subparagraph (ii) of the wiretap statute’s suppression provision because the language authorizing interception beyond the District Court’s territorial jurisdiction rendered each Order “insufficient on its face.” §2518(10)(a)(ii). The Government agreed not to introduce any evidence arising from its Missouri listening post, and the District Court denied the Dahdas’ motion. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit rejected the Dahdas’ facial-insufficiency argument on the ground that the challenged language did not implicate Congress’ core statutory concerns in enacting the wiretap statute.

Held: Because the Orders were not lacking any information that the statute required them to include and would have been sufficient absent the challenged language authorizing interception outside the court’s territorial jurisdiction, the Orders were not facially insufficient. Pp. 6–12.

(a) The Tenth Circuit applied the “core concerns” test from United States v. Giordano, 416 U. S. 505, and held that subparagraph (ii) applies only where the insufficiency reflects an order’s failure to satisfy the “statutory requirements that directly and substantially implement the congressional intention to limit the use of” wiretapping, id., at 527. The court identified two such core concerns and concluded that neither applies to the statute’s territorial limitation. But Giordano involved a different suppression provision—subparagraph (i)—which applies only when a “communication was unlawfully intercepted.” §2518(10)(a)(i). The underlying point of Giordano’s limitation was to help distinguish subparagraph (i) of §2518(10)(a) from subparagraphs (ii) and (iii). It makes little sense to extend the “core concerns” test to subparagraph (ii) as well. Subparagraph (ii) therefore does not include a Giordano-like “core concerns” requirement. Pp. 6–8.

(b) That said, this Court also cannot fully endorse the Dahdas’ interpretation of the statute. The Dahdas read subparagraph (ii) as applying to any legal defect that appears within the four corners of an order. Clearly, subparagraph (ii) covers at least an order’s failure to include information required by §§2518(4)(a)–(e). But that does not mean that every defect that may conceivably appear in an order results in an insufficiency. Here, the sentence authorizing interception outside Kansas is surplus. Its presence is not connected to any other relevant part of the Orders. Absent the challenged language, every wiretap that produced evidence introduced at the Dahdas’ trial was properly authorized under the statute. While the Orders do not specifically list the territorial area where they could lawfully take effect, they clearly set forth the authorizing judge’s territorial jurisdiction—the District of Kansas. And the statute itself presumptively limits every Order’s scope to the issuing court’s territorial jurisdiction. This interpretation of the term “insufficient” does not, as the Dahdas contend, produce bizarre results. Rather, it makes sense of the suppression provision as a whole. Pp. 8–12.

853 F. 3d 1101 (first judgment) and 852 F. 3d 1282 (second judgment), affirmed.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except Gorsuch, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Notes

1  Together with Dahda v. United States (see this Court’s Rule 12.4), also on certiorari to the same court.

Primary Holding

Wiretap orders, purportedly authorizing interceptions outside of the issuing judge's territorial jurisdiction, were not facially insufficient with respect to communications intercepted within the judge's territorial jurisdiction.

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