Tripped up: Federal indictment dropped against accused gun-seller due to police breaking Maryland wiretap laws
Remember Linda Tripp? She was the former Pentagon employee who befriended Monica Lewinsky, then-President Bill Clinton’s paramour, and proceeded to secretly record telephone calls with Lewinsky that detailed her sexual escapades with Clinton. In 1998, Tripp handed the tapes over to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, spurring Starr’s probe to new heights and, ultimately, the impeachment of Clinton for lying about his extramarital affair.
Starr promised Tripp immunity from prosecution in exchange for the tapes, so when Tripp was indicted in Maryland for breaking the state’s wiretap laws – the Free State is one of a dozen nationwide that requires consent from all parties before recording, and Lewinsky had no idea her conversations were being taped – a state judge had to chuck the charges.
The Tripp case was a big public reminder that Maryland has such stringent wiretap laws. Today, though, thanks to four Anne Arundel County police detectives’ failure to remember the statute, accused gun-seller Lovell Offer of Annapolis is no longer a criminal defendant in Maryland federal court after prosecutors moved to dismiss the indictment against him.
Offer’s attorney, John Sakellaris, filed a simple, four-page motion to suppress the wiretap evidence against Offer. In it, he explained that that the police, without obtaining an electronic-surveillance order from a judge, gathered the evidence by recording a confidential informant’s conversations with Offer, who sold the informant a .22 caliber rifle he was prohibited from possessing because of his prior criminal record.
“Although it may be constitutionally permissible, as well as lawful under the federal wiretap statute, to intercept and record conversations where at least one party has consented,” Sakellaris wrote, “the Maryland wiretap statute specifically prohibits such recordings without the consent of all parties.”
“Since the Anne Arundel County police did not obtain a prior court order and, in fact, obtained the electronic surveillance unlawfully,” Sakellaris continued, “such surveillance and its fruits should be suppressed by this Court. Rewarding police officers for committing violations of state law should not be condoned by this Court.”
What’s remarkable is that the case against Offer, which was filed in June based on his alleged conduct in April, even made it to federal court, much less that it survived as long as it did before dismissal.