Baltimore County prosecutors want to fight a ruling this week by the Court of Special Appeals that reversed the drug conspiracy conviction of Roland Mazzone because wiretap evidence included conversations with his wife.
The appeal was the first in Maryland to raise the right of privileged communications -- such as those between husband and wife, lawyer and client, priest and penitent -- in a wiretap case, said veteran defense attorney Russell J. White.
Mr. Mazzone, 36, the former manager of the Valley View Inn in Parkville, received a 20-year prison sentence last year, the first 10 without the possibility of parole. Police identified him as the leader of a 17-member "working-class" drug ring that distributed cocaine throughout Baltimore and Harford counties. His arrest culminated a 3 1/2 -year investigation.
Two taped phone conversations with his wife, Betty Ann Mazzone, were used as evidence at Mazzone's trial. But a three-judge appeal panel ruled that under Maryland law, "the preservation of that [husband-wife] relationship is more important than the judicial search for truth."
In doing so, the the court invalidated the entire 1991 wiretap order issued to investigators by Baltimore County Circuit Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., who is now himself a member of the Court of Special Appeals. His order said authorities could monitor a conversation between husband and wife if the couple discussed committing a crime.
According to the evidence in the case, Mr. Mazzone ran a cocaine ring from the Valley View Inn and his home in Perry Hall during the spring and summer of 1991. But the evidence consists almost entirely of the wiretaps, according to Assistant State's Attorney Frank C. Meyer Jr.
"I don't believe the law should be that husbands and wives can conspire to commit a crime," Mr. Meyer said.
But given that interpretation of the law, he said, "the remedy is not to throw out all the wiretaps . . the remedy is to suppress the conversations between the husband and wife, and let us decide whether to proceed with the remaining conversations."
Mr. White said he hadn't spoken yet to his client, who will remain in prison for about 30 days until the court issues a formal order. County prosecutors and the attorney general's office then have 15 days to seek review by the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court.
"It's good that the courts are very protective of a citizen's right to privacy -- and wiretapping is really a major intrusion," Mr. White said.