Ad Spot

August 7, 2022

Kentucky court rules police violated robbery suspect’s rights by pulling from his cellphone without warrant

A sharply divided Kentucky Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police violated a robbery suspect’s constitutional protections by accessing his cellphone without a warrant, calling use of the phone as a tracking device “profoundly invasive.”

In the 4-3 decision, the court’s majority said the robbery suspect was subjected to a warrantless search when police obtained his real-time cellphone location information. They ruled that the information was illegally acquired and should be excluded from evidence.

At issue was whether there’s a “reasonable expectation of privacy” regarding a person’s real-time cell-site location information, also known as CSLI, under federal Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Such information can be used to determine a cellphone’s location with “near perfect accuracy” when the phone is powered on, the court noted.

“In obtaining an individual’s cell phone’s real-time CSLI, police commandeer the cell phone and its transmissions for the purpose of locating that individual,” Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said in writing for the majority. “We find this usurpation of an individual’s private property profoundly invasive, and we liken it to a technological trespass.”

The ruling stems from a case in Kentucky’s Woodford County involving robbery suspect Dovontia Reed. One of his attorneys hailed it a far-reaching victory for civil liberties.

“This is kind of a guarantee from the court saying that the government can’t search your real-time CSLI to get your location without a warrant,” said Adam Meyer, a public defender representing Reed during his appeals. “And what that means is this will protect everybody who has a cell phone now.”

The state attorney general’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Reed had called an acquaintance on his cellphone, saying he had run out of gas and asked that they meet at a Versailles gas station. When the acquaintance arrived, Reed allegedly robbed him of $500 at gunpoint and fled in a vehicle, according to authorities. Police obtained the number of the cellphone used by Reed.

The cell service provider located the phone and authorities used the information to track Reed’s movements, the opinion noted. Reed was pulled over and arrested, and a grand jury indicted him on charges of robbery, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and receiving stolen property.

Reed claimed police unlawfully obtained the cellphone location information without a warrant. A judge denied his motion to suppress the information and evidence gained from the search. He entered a conditional guilty plea to charges including second-degree robbery, reserving his right to challenge the denial of his motion. He was sentenced to prison about five years ago but has since been released on parole, Meyer said.

On appeal, the state Court of Appeals said the obtaining of Reed’s real-time cellphone location information amounted to a warrantless, unreasonable search. The Supreme Court’s majority agreed, sending the case back to trial court for further proceedings to suppress the cellphone data.

“Today we hold that individuals have an objectively reasonable expectation that their cell phones will not be used as real-time tracking devices through the direct and active interference of law enforcement,” Minton wrote.

He wrote that searching a cellphone’s contents is an invasion of a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy sufficient to merit Fourth Amendment protection.” The Court of Appeals said the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to search a person’s cell-site location information.

“We find no reason why such an expectation of privacy would not extend to data unwittingly, involuntarily transmitted by a person’s cell phone to their cell-service provider regarding their location,” Minton said. “Police may not subvert the warrant requirement merely by going directly to the cell-service provider.”

As the case was argued, attorneys for the state said the consequences would be that police always have to obtain a warrant before getting a suspect’s real-time cellphone location information.

The Supreme Court’s majority was unswayed. Minton noted “the ease with which technology allows police to obtain warrants and the invasive nature” of searching a person’s cell location information.

Joining Minton in the majority opinion were Deputy Chief Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes and Justices Michelle M. Keller and Christopher Shea Nickell.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Laurance B. VanMeter advocated another framework: that individuals do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy involving their real-time cellphone location data while traveling on public roads, and when the information sought is limited in “scope and purpose.”

The dissenting opinion said the trial court’s denial of the suppression motion should be reinstated. Justices Robert B. Conley and Debra Hembree Lambert joined in the dissent.

News

Rand Paul’s wife say senator wants to subpoena Fauci records over COVID policies

News

Biden headed to Kentucky next week to visit flood-damaged areas

News

Kentucky man headed to prison after admitting to role in $370K coronavirus loan scheme

News

Meet Kentucky’s lone billionaire; Here’s what we know about her

News

Oppressive heat settles over flooded Kentucky towns as death toll rises to 37

News

Kentucky flood death toll keeps climbing, now at 25 known deaths, governor says

News

Kentucky governor: Death toll from flooding rises to 25

News

Kentucky flood victim search could take weeks, governor says

News

Kentucky flood death toll hits 16 as search teams continue looking for missing people

News

Kentucky flooding death toll rises to 8; flash flooding, mudslides ‘just everywhere’ emergency official says

News

‘Devastating’ – Three dead as flash flooding engulfs parts of Kentucky

News

Wrong-way crash on interstate kills three people in Kentucky

News

Ex-probation officer faces sex abuse charges

News

Kentucky’s largest school district to require face masks as COVID numbers spike

News

Police chase reaching 100 mph ends in fiery crash, killing one person, injuring others

News

United Methodist Church leader killed in carjacking

News

Big Tech giants are threatening local news. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act can save it.

News

Woman claims Kentucky fertility doctor used his own sperm during treatment, takes him to court

News

State of Kentucky ends fiscal year with near-record surplus

News

Kentucky man indicted on murder, other charges in killing of three police officers

News

Kentucky judge accused of misconduct violations

News

Kentucky man arrested after police intercept package containing more than 10 pounds of marijauna

News

Kentucky man headed to prison in $1.3 million COVID-relief scheme

News

More Americans view the Bible as a collection of fables than believe it as the literal word of God