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1 California county made nearly 20% of wire taps nationwide

Investigations conducted by USA TODAY and The Desert Sun identified alleged violations of federal law in around 738 wiretapping operations approved in Riverside County. In 2014, approximately one in five wiretaps approved in the United States originated from that single county.

Federal laws, established in the 1960s after secret government monitoring of civil rights leaders, specifically state that a top prosecutor must sign a request for a court-approved wiretap. Therefore, wiretaps approved in Riverside County needed to be signed by the district attorney. Interviews and court record reviews conducted by the media, however, showed that a subordinate had approved the wiretaps.

The county's massive wiretapping operation monitored the telephone calls and text messages of at least 52,000 people. Federal drug investigators conducted most of the surveillance and used evidence to arrest over 300 people all over the country. Millions of dollars in cash and drugs were seized, but the alleged violations in surveillance operations could potentially eliminate that evidence from consideration against suspects. Investigators also assert that in some cases the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency concealed the origin of evidence because it had come from the Riverside County wiretaps.

In criminal cases, a defense attorney would be likely to examine the legitimacy of evidence cited against a client. A person charged with a crime based on surveillance operations might expect the lawyer to scrutinize the process by which the surveillance was approved. If circumstances suggest that the person was unfairly targeted by law enforcement, then the lawyer might request that the evidence be discarded. When a lawyer is able to suppress some evidence, the client might gain a better position during a plea negotiation or have a case dismissed altogether.

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