The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Gallegos; People v. Lopez; People v. Gallegos; People v. Santistevan; People v. Perez on April 11, 2011.
Fourth Amendment—Neutral and Detached Magistrate—Wiretapping.
The Supreme Court consolidated five interlocutory appeals by the People, each concerning the suppression of evidence obtained through wiretap surveillance. The five defendant-appellees joined in a motion to suppress evidence derived from illegal wiretaps, claiming that the orders authorizing wiretap surveillance were invalid because the judge who issued the orders did so while his son worked for the District Attorney’s Office. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, citing statutory and ethical rules of judicial conduct for its determination that the wiretap orders were void for lack of a detached and neutral magistrate. The trial court also found a number of violations of the wiretap statute and wiretap orders.
Because the suppression of evidence is governed foremost by constitutional principles, the Supreme Court held that the proper inquiry in a motion to suppress is not whether a magistrate should have recused himself or herself under rules of judicial conduct, but whether a magistrate manifested the neutrality and detachment demanded by the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, if a warrant or wiretap application is supported by probable cause, evidence should not be suppressed without proof of actual bias by the issuing magistrate. Actual bias is more than an appearance of impropriety; it is an actual conflict so substantial that the magistrate cannot be considered neutral and detached. Because the wiretap orders in this case were supported by probable cause, and because there was no evidence that the judge who issued the orders had an actual conflict, the Court held that the judge who issued the wiretap orders was a neutral and detached magistrate. Furthermore, the violations of the wiretap statute were not sufficient to warrant suppression. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the trial court.
Summary and full case available here.