Thank You, Timothy Carpenter
Last December, there was a post on this blog called “Your Smartphone and the Fourth Amendment.” That post outlined a case that was before the Supreme Court at that time – Carpenter v. United States. That case was seen as an important test of the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment.
Can law enforcement get your cell phone’s location information without a search warrant? Where are the boundaries of “unreasonable search and seizure” within today’s technology? Who won the case? The answers to these questions can be found in this post.
Recap of Carpenter v. United States:
Timothy Carpenter was convicted of robbery in 2010. The primary evidence used against him was the location records from the telephone company based on his cell phone usage. Police received the information from the wireless carrier without Carpenter’s knowledge or authorization – and without a search warrant.
The Fourth Amendment, as mentioned above, protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The key to avoiding this from happening is that law enforcement must have “probable cause” before conducting their searches and seizures.
The struggle with this is that technology is often ahead of the law. Phones are different than they used to be, and records are stored and gathered differently as well. This case would determine where cell phone location records fall within the boundaries of the Fourth Amendment.
Why This Case Matters:
Some people may say that the outcome of this case was irrelevant to them. After all, if the police want their phone records, they can have them. For most people, there is nothing to hide, and so this debate is pointless.
You never know when that can change. All it takes is one mistake, one bad day, to be on the wrong side of the law. You know this if you have ever been pulled over for speeding or were caught texting while driving. It can happen when you least expect it.
Furthermore, people are generally oblivious to just how far law enforcement will go to get the information they need. The answer is that, often, they will go as far as they can.
People give police more information than they are required to all the time. If you are being interrogated by the police, you are not required to answer, and you are allowed to invoke your right to an attorney. People should invoke these rights more often than they do.
How the Case Was Solved:
When you allow your phone to track your location – usually for reasons of convenience (after all, when you search “restaurants near me,” you want your phone to know where you are) – do you realize how much freedom you are giving away? Until Carpenter v. United States, you were giving your location away to your wireless carrier, and law enforcement were able to get that information without a warrant.
Law enforcement was not going to give up that ability without a legal fight. The Supreme Court decided, though, that law enforcement would be required to do just that. Siding with Carpenter, the police are now generally required to get a warrant before accessing your location records.
The court placed an important line in the sand as it relates to the Fourth Amendment and the rise of technology. Greater checks and balances are in place, which is a very good thing.
Do the police want information from you? Are they investigating you, and you are not sure of your rights? These are important situations to correctly handle. If this is you, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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The blog posts contained on this website were written, in part, by a non-lawyer employee of Jordan B. Davies. However, each post has been carefully reviewed and edited by Jordan B. Davies to ensure legal accuracy and compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.