One issue that is continuing to confound judges and legislators across the country has to do with cellphones and the valuable information they contain in the context of a criminal investigation. The Constitution never could have anticipated how much information cellphones would contain, including location, travel information, financial records and a full picture of a person's friends and acquaintances.
Courts have been issuing divergent rulings regarding when and how cellphones can be inspected. One Ohio court held that police needed a search warrant to inspect a cellphone because, unlike a piece of paper that might be crumpled up in a suspect's pocket, a phone can hold vast troves of private data. However, California's Supreme Court said that police are able to look through a cellphone without a warrant so long as the phone is on the suspect at the time of arrest.
A debate is raging in the legal world over whether a cellphone is like a container of information, such a suitcase filled with drugs that police find in the trunk of a car, or whether they are instead more comparable to a face-to-face conversation that comes with an expectation of privacy. Regardless of the judicial approach, it's clear law enforcement agencies have figured out how important the information can be. In 2011, cellphone carriers say they responded to 1.3 million demands from police agencies about subscribers.
One of the most sought after bits of information contained in smartphones is location and court rulings with regard to location records have varied wildly. Privacy advocates and defense attorneys argue that a trail of where a suspect goes is obviously private while law enforcement officers say that consumers have no privacy claim over signals transmitted from their mobile device to a company's cell tower. Delaware, Maryland and Oklahoma have proposed legislation that would require police to get a warrant before requesting such information from carriers. California attempted to pass a similar law but the governor, who worried that it would be problematic for law enforcement agencies, struck it down.
Given a lack of federal legislation on the subject, courts have been divided. In Texas a federal appeals court said that police did not need a warrant to track suspects through cellphones. Louisiana is set to hear a similar case and the decision will be closely watched. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on the issue, something many are hoping happens in the near future. One recent case that many hope indicates the way the Court is leaning (and that we discussed here) involved an indirectly related issue of police installing a GPS tracking device on someone's car. In that case, the High Court held that the police must first obtain a search warrant before engaging in such monitoring.
If you have had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a St. Louis criminal defense lawyer capable of fighting for your freedom, don't hesitate to contact our St. Louis criminal law firm today at (314) 863-0500.
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