A bill to allow the use of state-level wiretaps on certain felony drug cases passed with three amendments in the Alabama Senate Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, specifically targets “kingpin drug trafficking cases,” according to state Sen. Tom Butler, R-Madison, who previously introduced the now-dead companion bill earlier in the legislative session and shepherded the bill to passage in the Senate this Tuesday.
Former iterations and reincarnations of this legislation have passed but failed to reach enactment over the past few years. Its most recent attempt was unable to reach final passage during the previous legislative session.
“This bill will allow a wiretap, a very cautious wiretap,” Butler said during deliberations Tuesday. “It allows only state law enforcement investigators, not city, not county, but only state law enforcement investigators to appeal [for a wiretap] to the attorney general.”
According to the bill, the process for approval of a state-level wiretap would begin with state investigators requesting authorization from the Alabama attorney general via the secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Investigators would have to provide sufficient probable cause that an individual they wish to target with a wiretap is suspected of a felony drug crime.
If approved by the attorney general, final approval would be placed in the hands of a circuit court judge in the district where investigators seek the wiretap.
Once final approval is reached, state investigators would be able to monitor a suspect’s phone, email, internet, and other electronic communication.
During debate on the Senate floor Tuesday, Butler offered three amendments, including one requiring the state legislative council to receive a report of all wiretaps conducted during on or before Apr. 15 of each year.
At the end of deliberations, Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, asked whether it would be simpler for District Attorney to be involved in the state-level wiretap approval process.
“Local DAs do this all the time for the local drug task forces,” Singleton said, adding that he supported the bill. “They usually work hand and hand because it’s the local DA who got to bring it to trial–, normally, it’s not going to be the state attorney general. They’re probably going to make sure that their local DA is on the case because it’s within his jurisdiction.”
The bill eventually passed as amended 25-1 and now moves to the House for consideration.