Nevada Supreme Court: Law permits tapping cell phones

The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled Nevada’s 40-year-old wiretap law permits the interception of text messages and cell phone calls even though those things didn’t exist when it passed.

The wiretap law was actually intended to protect people’s privacy rights by requiring a judge to issue a warrant before police or others could tap their phones.

Justices Mark Gibbons, Nancy Saitta and Kristina Pickering made the ruling this week in upholding the conviction of Philip Douglas Sharpe of Lyon County on drug trafficking charges.

Drug enforcement agents obtained a warrant to tap two of Sharpe’s cell phones as part of their investigation into suspicions he was selling methamphetamine. Using information from the wiretaps, they arrested him four days later and confiscated 3.25 pounds of meth.

Sharpe’s lawyers filed motions to suppress the evidence arguing Nevada’s wiretap law doesn’t allow interception of cell phone communications because, unlike federal law, it hasn’t been updated to include “electronic communications.”

Amicus Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice argued the Legislature’s failure to update the state wiretap law must be interpreted to mean lawmakers didn’t want to include cell and text communications under the wiretap statute.

The district court disagreed ruling the statute’s mention of “wire or oral communications” can be interpreted to include cell phone calls and text messages.

The high court panel agreed this week, ruling a “wire communication” as permitted by the 1973 statute can be “any communication made in whole or in part through the use of facilities for the transmission of communications by the aid of wire, cable or other like connection between the point of origin and the point of reception.” That, they said, includes electronic communications.

The justices wrote the law refers to “any communication,” and “any” includes both cell phone calls and text messages.

Sharpe was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 10 years to life in prison. The ruling upholds that sentence.


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