When police conduct criminal investigations, they cannot do whatever they want. Police are bound by rules which aim to protect the rights of those suspected of criminal activity. One of these important rights is that of privacy. Among the rules intended to protect suspect’s right to privacy is the well-known warrant requirement.
Unless there is some exceptional situation, police are bound to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. This includes searches of cell phones. Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a warrant before looking at a criminal suspect’s cell phone data. Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court took that ruling a step further and decided that police may not keep tabs on a suspect through cell phone signals without a warrant.
The case which gave rise to the ruling involved an individual whose position was tracked by police and who was ultimately arrested on drug possession charges. The court ruled that police use of his cell phone data to track his location in real time was a search for which police, in this case, did not have probable cause, since they had only received a court order to obtain the telephone numbers of his calls.
As this case and others show, violations of privacy can and do happen in the course of criminal investigations. It is important for criminal suspects to be aware of their privacy rights and the protections available to them. For instance, one protection available to defendants subjected to an illegal search is to have illegally obtained evidence excluded from trial. Defendants who are able to make use of this protection can end up weakening prosecutors’ case by removing key evidence from being exhibited at trial.
In a future post, we’ll take a bit more look at the exclusionary rule and how it works.
Source: The Washington Times, “Florida rules police can’t track cellphones without warrant,” Cheryl K. Chumley, October 17, 2014.