United States v. Ojeda Rios/Dissent Stevens

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Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinion
O'Connor
Dissenting Opinion
Stevens


Justice STEVENS, with whom Justice BRENNAN and Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting.

The failure to comply with the sealing requirements of Title III was the unfortunate consequence of a Government lawyer's good-faith, but incorrect, understanding of the law. Whether such a mistake should constitute a "satisfactory explanation" for the failure, is, as both the District Court and the Court of Appeals recognized, a close question. Both of those courts resolved their doubts in favor of requiring strict compliance with a statute that was carefully drawn to protect extremely sensitive privacy interests. I think their resolution of the issue was correct. [1]

The ordinary citizen is often charged with presumptive knowledge of laws even when they are complex and confusing. A similar presumption should apply to a federal prosecutor responsible for insuring that a prolonged and extensive program of electronic surveillance is conducted in compliance with the law. Moreover, when issues turn on the details of such an investigation in this case involving 1,011 tapes made pursuant to 8 separate orders and 17 extensions-I believe we should give special deference to the consistent evaluations of the record by the District Court and the Court of Appeals. Chief Judge Oakes succinctly stated the concern that is decisive for me: "We think that unfortunately the failure to seal the Levittown tapes here resulted from a disregard of the sensitive nature of the activities undertaken. The danger here is, of course, that today's dereliction becomes tomorrow's conscious avoidance of the requirements of law. The privacy and other interests affected by the electronic surveillance statutes are sufficiently important, we believe, to hold the Government to a reasonably high standard of at least acquaintance with the requirements of law." 875 F.2d 17, 23 (CA2 1989). [2]

Accordingly, while I agree with the Court's rejection of the Government's construction of § 2518(8)(a), I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals. [3]

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).