Cellphone locational data and the Fourth Amendment
In the most recent case, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. The appeals court ruled that warrants with probable cause were not necessary to obtain cellphone locational data.
In that particular case, the appeals court distinguished the cellphone issue from the GPS case, which was previously decided by the Supreme Court. Specifically, the physical act of installing a GPS device on a suspect’s car was considered a search within the ambit of the Fourth Amendment. Such invasive action, unlike cellphone tracking, requires a probable-cause warrant.
At the same time, privacy advocates are waiting to hear how the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals assesses the issue. A ruling from the lower court has found that “compelled warrantless disclosure of cell site data violates the Fourth Amendment.” The 5th Circuit sets the law in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
Some rulings on the topic have taken a different approach to the issue, focusing more on the business records element of such matters. That is the case in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On the other hand, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals contemplated the issue in 2010, noting that that the lower courts have the option to demand a warrant for cellphone data. This law is applicable in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
As one can see, the law is always evolving. These varied decisions have significant impact on the way the Fourth Amendment is applied in criminal cases. If you have been charged with a serious crime, it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities. Depending on your jurisdiction, the outcome of your case could differ. To learn more, speak with a qualified criminal law attorney who has knowledge about search and seizure rights.