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Cell Phones and Police Investigations

Cell Phones and Police InvestigationsBefore cell phones, every phone had a fixed location. If Los Angeles police officers knew what phone a person was using, then they knew where that person was. A person talking on the phone could expect that their conversation was private, as a warrant was required to tap a phone and listen in on conversations. But a person could not expect secrecy regarding what numbers were dialed, and when the calls were placed. That was information handled by the phone company, a third party. And because the phone company had that information, police officers were able to get that information without a search warrant.

With the introduction of cell phones, more and more information passed through the hands of the phone company. Phone lines were transformed into vast cell networks transmitting information from every category of life. One of the most interesting pieces of information, for law enforcement, was location data. A phone in the pocket drew a line on a map showing where a person was every minute of the day. If the phone was at a crime scene, the phone’s owner was almost certainly there. Police investigations in Los Angeles began to rely heavily on the warrantless collection of cell phone location data. Law enforcement agencies thought that they were within the bounds of the “Third Party Doctrine” when requesting cell site location information.

Cell Phone Privacy Increased

The reconsideration of cell phone privacy rules came (ironically enough, as recognized by the Court) from a series of robberies of cell phone stores. Three of the four robbers were caught. Police officers suspected that Timothy Carpenter was the fourth robber, and they requested his cell site location information, which would allow officers to not only see where Carpenter was in real time, but to track his movement for up to five years. The police looked at over fourth months of location data for Carpenter, and catalogued about one hundred locations a day for him. The location data was then used to convict him of the robberies.

The United States Supreme Court held that the historical location information available through cell phone data was protected by a reasonable expectation of privacy. That meant that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant supported by probable cause if they wished to track a person’s location using cell site location information. Even though this information is sent to a third party, the phone company, that aggregates and stores the data, the Court emphasized that the process of a cell phone checking in with a tower is much more automated than even placing a phone call or depositing a check (phone and bank records are one of the most common forms of data sought under the third party doctrine).

Cell Phone Data is Still Vulnerable

The United States Supreme Court emphasized the limited nature of their holding in Carpenter v. US. (2018) They noted that they were requiring a warrant for cell site location information, but that they were not addressing all the other types of data that still pass through cell phones. Location data is very passive, in that the phone automatically checks in with cell towers. However, other types of data are more intentional, such as when people mark their location on social media, or even simply post online while the site’s location tracking is on.

Due to the fact that there are still may ways that cell phone data can be used to help police officers track a person’s activity, it is important that individuals accused of a crime make sure that their data is protected. Evidence collected in violation of the Fourth Amendment can be kept out of court by a suppression motion. The way that cell phones change the way data is used in society is constantly interacting with constitutional law in new ways. It takes an attorney that is always on the cutting edge of Fourth Amendment law to push back on the erosion of privacy rights.

If you are facing criminal charges, it is important that you consult with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who knows how to effectively litigate search and seizure issues on behalf of his clients.

For more information about Los Angeles police investigations, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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Michael Kraut is outstanding! He genuinely cared about my case and instructed my mom and I throughout the entire process. He was very clear on what he needed in order to receive the best results. He kept us updated until the end. I thank him so much for getting my charges rejected. I highly recommend him to anyone with legal needs! Shaquan
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I contacted Michael with concern for my personal and business reputation. He was very reassuring and confident the entire time. After about 3 weeks it was determined that no charges were being filed by any agency and I was in the clear of any investigation. One thing that is amazing is just how FAST Michael is at replying to phone calls, texts, and even emails! We are talking under 30 minutes in most cases. That is unheard of for most attorneys! Michael is incredible and not your typical run of the mill attorney. For best results hire him if you feel like you might be under investigation or could face charges. Even if you know you are innocent it is best to take care of the smoke before it becomes a fire. Brad
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Michael Kraut is-hands down-the best criminal defense attorney and I can't begin to thank him for all that he did for me and my family. I reached out to him in the middle of the night and less than a couple hours later, he had gotten back to me and scheduled a meeting. He's a no-nonsense attorney who knows how to get the job done! From the second we retained him, I had peace of mind in knowing that we were in the best hands possible. If Michael Kraut couldn't get it done, I knew that it couldn't be done at all. You can't put a price tag on your freedom. He was worth every single penny. Lida
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Michael Kraut - I cannot thank you enough for all that you did for ​my son. When I came to you I read that you used to be a district attorney but I never knew how much that meant until I watch you in court. I knew it took 3 months but the final day when I heard the judge say that all charges were dismissed it was all worth it! I will always be grateful for all that you did for us. A.N.