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Cell phone tracking and the warrant requirement

Many California residents use cell phones to communicate with friends, family members and employers every day. Laws have changed to keep up with changing technology over the years. One question before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether or not law enforcement can use location information stored regularly by cell phone providers to track suspects.

In Carpenter v. United States, data was used to track a suspect after a string of armed robberies. Carpenter was identified as the ring leader of a group that had robbed nine different stores in Michigan and Ohio. At his trial, location information from his cell phone provider was used to show where he had placed or received calls. The calls matched up with the locations of the nine robberies.

The question presented to the U.S. Supreme Court is if law enforcement should have obtained a warrant before obtaining the cell phone records. Obtaining a warrant would require that the police be able to demonstrate to a judge that the records would likely contain evidence that a crime had been committed. Instead of obtaining a warrant, police obtained the records pursuant to the federal Stored Communications Act. Other cases have held that information shared with third parties, such as a cell phone company, is not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

The use of technology is likely to continue to present new questions in the area of criminal law. A person who has been charged with a crime may wish to consult with a criminal defense attorney about whether or not rights have been violated. A criminal defense attorney could potentially suppress evidence that was obtained during an illegal, warrantless search.

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