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Dual Intercepts: Cellphone Location and Police Location are both Valid Jurisdictions for Wiretap Warrants

By: Megan Patituce

Long gone are the days of wiretaps portrayed in mobster movies.  FBI agents are no longer posing as utility workers to place a tap while other agents gather together around one set of headphones as the disks of tape spin on machines of old.  Advances in technology we largely take for granted also allow for increasingly simple government intrusions.  In State v. Nettles, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-768 (March 5, 2020), the Ohio Supreme Court took on the issue of intercept jurisdiction. 

In Nettles, the DEA agents obtained a warrant from Sandusky County to listed to calls of a Sandusky County-based alleged drug trafficker.  Those agents then, from Lucas County, intercepted the Verizon cellphone calls.  On appeal, Mr. Nettles argued that the intercept occurred in Lucas County and, as such, the DEA agents were required to obtain the warrant from Lucas County rather than Sandusky County.  Both the trial court and the Sixth District Court of Appeal disagreed.

The Ohio Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, affirmed the Sixth District, holding that the calls were, in fact, intercepted in Sandusky County and, as such, the warrant was properly obtained.  The Court explained that although the statute did not specify as to the location of an intercept, the application of the statute in light of modern technology allowed for a straight-forward answer: the calls were intercepted in both Lucas and Sandusky Counties.

The Court also noted that its decision was consistent with federal court decisions as well as decisions from other states such as New Jersey, Maryland, and Florida.  Courts across the nation are, largely, concluding that cellphone calls are intercepted at both the location from which the call is placed as well as the location at which law enforcement listens to the call.  For these reasons, the Court came to same conclusion, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the search warrant was valid.

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