LAWRENCEVILLE -- If a recent ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court remains, it would allow dozens of suspected drug traffickers to walk free.
The state's highest court released Monday its decision regarding an alleged multi-county ecstasy drug ring brought down in 2007 by Gwinnett authorities and the Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force. The court upheld an appeal -- filed by three key defendants -- that called wiretaps ordered in the case by the Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office unconstitutional.
The ruling, Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter told the Daily Post, could spell big problems.
"We are deciding whether to file a motion for reconsideration," Porter said. "If the decision stands, it will result in the dismissal of cases against approximately 35 drug traffickers. We're evaluating its effect on pending cases."
During the course of the original investigation, Porter's office obtained from a Gwinnett County Superior Court judge 25 warrants authorizing wiretaps on 18 telephones, including those of appealing defendants Khamone Luangkhot, Isaac Saleumsy and Santisouk Phommachanh.
Those three men were arrested after numerous recorded phone conversations and undercover buys with law enforcement.
The problem, according to the Supreme Court, however, is the manner in which the wiretaps were acquired. The Gwinnett judge issued warrants, but the "listening post" -- where law enforcement first heard the contents of the tapped communications -- was at HIDTA's Fulton County headquarters.
The Court has now ruled that those calls, pieces of key evidence, should have been suppressed by the trial court.
"Having reviewed the applicable law, we conclude that superior courts do not currently possess the authority to issue wiretap warrants for interceptions conducted outside the boundaries of their respective judicial circuits," Chief Justice Carol Hunstein wrote in the unanimous decision. "Accordingly, the Gwinnett County Superior Court did not have the authority to issue the warrants in this case, and we thus must reverse."
The decision reversed a previous ruling by the Georgia Court of Appeals.