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United States v. Feekes

decided: July 20, 1989.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 88 CR 16, John C. Shabaz, Judge.

Cummings, Posner and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cummings

CUMMINGS, Circuit Judge

A jury convicted federal prison inmates Joseph Feekes and Baltazar Lopez, along with Lopez's son Juan, of conspiring to smuggle heroin into the prison and other related crimes. The district judge, believing the new federal sentencing guidelines to be unconstitutional, imposed sentences on the defendants ranging from seven years for Juan Lopez to 54 years for Baltazar Lopez, but also stated that if he were wrong about the unconstitutionality of the guidelines he would impose sentences under the guidelines ranging from 27 months for Juan Lopez to 22 years six months for Baltazar Lopez. Feekes and the Lopezes appeal their convictions and sentences. Since a full recitation of the facts is unnecessary to the issues raised by the appeals, we shall proceed directly to the issues.

I. Alleged Outrageous Conduct by the Government

The first issue is whether the conviction of Feekes should be reversed because the government engaged in "outrageous conduct" while investigating him. See United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 36 L. Ed. 2d 366, 93 S. Ct. 1637 ; United States v. Podolsky, 798 F.2d 177 (7th Cir. 1986); United States v. Valona, 834 F.2d 1334 (7th Cir. 1987).*fn1 Feekes' argument is intricate. He claimed at trial to have been entrapped into selling heroin by a government informant, a fellow inmate, but his entrapment defense was rejected by the jury. The claim of outrageous conduct centers on the government's failure to wire or otherwise monitor the informant when he solicited Feekes, and as a result essential evidence of entrapment -- the evidence of what exactly the informant said to Feekes and what he replied -- was unavailable.

This is certainly one of the few -- if not the first -- times a criminal defendant has complained about the government's failure to engage in electronic eavesdropping, and we are quite reluctant to hold that the government's failure to invade, or to invade enough, an individual's privacy during an investigation constitutes outrageous conduct.*fn2 Feekes' argument is premised on the unreliability of the informant in this case, on whose word the jury had to rely in the absence of monitored conversations. But this argument overlooks the obvious; it seems self-evident that informants are often an unsavory lot. The value of an informant stems from his opportunity to gain the confidence of participants in a criminal enterprise and glean information therefrom, an opportunity seldom available to ordinary, honest, law-abiding citizens.*fn3 Feekes' contention would require the government to utilize electronic eavesdropping devices every time an unsavory informant participates in an investigation.

The decision to employ electronic eavesdropping devices on the informant's person may well threaten the ultimate success of the investigation, as well as the safety of the informant, arising from the unplanned discovery of the listening apparatus by the subject of the investigation. Considering the setting and the nature of the suspected crime, see Valona, 834 F.2d at 1343, the decision not to employ electronic eavesdropping devices on an informant in prison is certainly not outrageous; the chance of discovery runs high and the consequences severe.

Finally, Feekes catalogues for this Court the reasons why the informant in this case was not to be trusted. But this information, rather than being argued in this Court, properly belonged before the jury, whose role is to reach credibility determinations. By convicting Feekes the jury manifested its belief in the truth of the informant's testimony, despite Feekes' argument to the contrary. Although a complete recorded catalogue of all the conversations between Feekes and the informant may have set the facts more definitively -- here the jury believed it would have settled along the lines the government argues -- in this instance the failure to do so is not necessarily outrageous. Rather Feekes had the opportunity, which he exploited, to attack the informant's credibility through cross-examination and other witnesses' testimony bearing on the informant's credibility.

II. Wiretapped Phone Conversations

The next issue, raised by the Lopezes, is a more conventional invocation of privacy. They argue that the introduction into evidence of tape recordings of the phone calls that Baltazar Lopez made from the prison to Juan Lopez outside the prison violated the federal wiretapping statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510 et seq. The statute indeed forbids the use in evidence of wiretaps made in violation of it, see 18 U.S.C. § 2515, but the government relies on two exceptions. Section 2510(5)(ii) excepts wiretapping "by an investigative or law enforcement officer in the ordinary course of his duties," that is, by "any officer of the United States or of a State or political subdivision thereof, who is empowered by law to conduct investigations . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 2510(7). And Section 2511(2)(c) allows wiretapping where "one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception." Taking the second of these exceptions first, we note that significant efforts were made to notify inmates that their telephone calls (other than to their lawyers) would be monitored, including signs in both English and Spanish to this effect which were posted within four to six inches of each phone; and while Baltazar Lopez claims to be illiterate in both languages, there was a good deal of evidence that he knew the phones were probably tapped.*fn4 The government argues that since Lopez knew the phones were tapped and used them anyway, he consented to their being tapped.

Although accepted in United States v. Amen, 831 F.2d 373, 378-379 (2d Cir. 1987), on the basis of considerable case authority and some legislative history, this argument is troubling. To take a risk is not the same thing as to consent. The implication of the argument is that since wiretapping is known to be a widely employed investigative tool, anyone suspected of criminal (particularly drug) activity who uses a phone consents to have his phone tapped -- particularly if he speaks in code, thereby manifesting an awareness of the risk.*fn5 Yet the more the government engages in wiretapping, the less protection people may have against illegal wiretapping.

Despite our apprehension about applying the second exception to the wiretapping statute to this case, the first exception is clearly satisfied. The regulations of the Bureau of Prisons authorized the tape recording of all prisoner calls except to prisoners' lawyers, and Baltazar Lopez's calls to his son were recorded in accordance with this routine, which was the "ordinary course" for the officers who supervised the monitoring system. See United States v. Paul, 614 F.2d 115, 116-117 (6th Cir. 1980) (taping of prisoners' calls falls within law enforcement exception). The Lopezes do not argue that the prison should have obtained an intercept order (the equivalent of a search warrant) before tapping these calls. Their only argument is that Lieutenant Gunja, a prison investigator who reviewed the tapes of the Lopezes' conversations and used the information he gleaned from this review as part of his investigation of the Lopezes, violated the following regulation of the Bureau of Prisons: "When it appears likely that the incident may be subject to criminal prosecution, the investigating officer shall suspend the investigation," 28 C.F.R. § 541.14(b)(1). The idea behind the regulation is that at this point the matter should be turned over to the FBI or some other federal investigatory agency, rather than handled by prison staff members such as Lieutenant Gunja.

But even if Gunja had violated the regulation, it would not follow that the tape recordings should be excluded from evidence. The making of the tape recordings did not violate the wiretapping statute, the recordings were concededly done as part of a routine procedure, and we know of no other ground on which they could be excluded from evidence. The Lopezes' only complaint is that someone other than Gunja should have reviewed the tape after that point at which Gunja should have known that activity subject to criminal prosecution was being planned. Although the wiretapping statute itself requires exclusion of evidence obtained in violation of it, see 18 U.S.C. § 2515, ...

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