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Carpenter and Warrantless Searches of Cell Site Location Information in California

Jul 20, 2018 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense

The United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Carpenter v. U.S. has profoundly affected the way the law treats warrantless searches. During the case, law enforcement officials arrested a total of four men. One of the men confessed, and gave officials his cell phone number, as well as the numbers of the other involved individuals. Cellphones record certain data when a user makes a phone call. It records data including which tower the phone is connected to. This is called cell site location information (CSLI) and shows the approximate location of the person making the phone call. Using the CSLI data, law enforcement officials were able to charge one of the men, Timothy Carpenter, with an interstate crime. Carpenter argued that a warrant was needed to acquire the CSLI and that admitting the data as evidence violated his Fourth Amendment right. The case worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ultimately returned a verdict in favor of Carpenter.

In any criminal case, knowing your rights is of vital importance. Without the experience of a Fresno criminal defense attorney, it can be difficult to know whether your rights are being infringed upon. If you’re facing criminal charges in California, your best bet is to contact Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Attorney. We understand the law and its implications, and we will provide you with the dedicated defense you deserve.

Call us today at (559) 443-7442, or fill out our online form to discuss your case.

Third-Party Exception Means Obtaining a CSLI Requires a Warrant

In situations like this, courts have generally recognized the third-party doctrine. This is the idea that, during a case, any information that you share with someone outside of the proceedings is not legally private information. However, the Supreme Court declined to take the third-party doctrine approach in regard to CSLI. This is partially due to the type of information that law enforcement is trying to obtain and its intrusive nature. In this case officials were trying to obtain information regarding a person’s location. The court held that the third-party doctrine should be applied to information less invasive than location tracking.

Furthermore, the doctrine has historically been applied to information that is disclosed voluntarily. While you may have a vague idea of the mechanics behind phone calls, it’s a big leap to say that by making one you’re voluntarily telling everyone where you are.

California Courts Continue to Work Through Warrant Questions

By ruling that obtaining a CSLI requires a warrant, the U.S. Supreme Court has raised additional questions for the lower courts. While using your phone calls to establish your location requires a warrant, there is other information on your phone that law enforcement is entitled to see without a warrant.

Recently, the Supreme Court of California addressed whether phone records could be examined without a warrant without violating the Fourth Amendment. Even in light of the Carpenter decision, the court ruled that phone records do not require a warrant to search. Information such as phone call metadata (when a call was made, to whom, and how long the call was) is not considered as invasive as your physical location. Additionally, the California Supreme Court placed particular emphasis on the fact that the phone logs simply display that a call had taken place, not the content of the call. Essentially, though you are entitled to privacy as to your location when you made a phone call, you are not entitled to keep the fact that you made a call private.

Contact Our Fresno Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help

Without the proper knowledge, it can seem impossible to keep up with the constant changes in the legal system. At Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Attorney, our extensive legal experience will ensure you are not being exploited. Fill out our online form or call (559) 443-7442 today to schedule a free, initial case evaluation.

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