Fourth Circuit Concludes that § 2515 Does not Permit a Clean Hands Exception to Its Exclusionary Rule

Per U.S. v. Crabtree, 565 F.3d 887 (4th Cir. May 19, 2009):

Whether § 2515 should be understood as containing a “clean hands” exception to its exclusionary rule is an issue that has divided the circuits. The Sixth Circuit has concluded that § 2515 does not preclude the government in a criminal prosecution from introducing evidence of a recording made in violation of Title III if the government had no involvement in the illegal interception, see United States v. Murdock, 63 F.3d 1391, 1404 (6th Cir.1995), while the First, Third, and Ninth Circuits have refused to read such a clean-hands exception into § 2515, see Chandler v. United States Army, 125 F.3d 1296, 1302 (9th Cir.1997); In re Grand Jury, 111 F.3d 1066, 1079 (3d Cir.1997); United States v. Vest, 813 F.2d 477, 481 (1st Cir.1987). We agree with the majority and conclude that § 2515 does not permit an exception to its exclusionary rule in cases where the government was not involved in illegal interception.

In our view, the issue is resolved by the language of § 2515 itself. Section 2515 states, in its entirety, that

Whenever any wire or oral communication has been intercepted, no part of the contents of such communication and no evidence derived therefrom may be received in evidence in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding in or before any court, grand jury, department, officer, agency, regulatory body, legislative committee, or other authority of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision thereof if the disclosure of that information would be in violation of this chapter.

18 U.S.C.A. § 2515. The statute seems to clearly and unambiguously prohibit the use in court of improperly intercepted communications; we simply see no gaps or shadows in the language that might leave lurking a clean-hands exception.


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