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Cellphone Site Location Details as Evidence in Florida Criminal Cases

Recently, a Federal Appellate Court for the 11th Circuit, the same Circuit which presides over the Districts of Florida, made a very important ruling as to the issue of whether “cell site location information” is protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution that guarantees against warrant-less searches.

The story of this criminal case is played out every day throughout Florida courtrooms. The Prosecutor, through the use of a detective from the Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement or local police agency obtains the cellphone number of a criminal defendant. The detective then requests, without a warrant, the tracking locations of the cellphone tower records. The cellphone provider, usually Metro PCS or another throw away cellphone company with no contract and pay per minute plans, gladly hands over the information to the investigation officer. The investigator is then able to track, through the use of cellphone tower position location, the position of the cellphone at any given time the cellphone is turned on and the direction of travel of the cellphone as it roams from tower to tower.

Understanding cellphone position and tracking in today’s court system is as important as understanding DNA evidence as both will link the suspect to the crime. This linking is done by the cellphone “pinging” to the nearest tower while it is turned “on.” As the cellphone is moving in a direction, the nearest cellphone tower “gate” will open and the cellphone will “ping” to that open “gate” and will simultaneously closed the “gate” further from it. No two cellphone tower “gates,” in theory, will remain open for a single cellphone to use. Therefore, by following the “ping” of the cellphone and the “opening” and “closing” of cellphone tower “gates” the investigator can place the cellphone in any given location and show its direction of travel. Placing a cellphone at a location of a crime and then at a location where the criminal defendant resides or is located is very damaging evidence. This evidence has been referred to as a “moving finger print.”

The issue of whether the cellphone tower location information of a cellphone user is protected under the right to privacy has been an ongoing battle.  Criminal defense lawyers have argued that it is protected under the Fourth Amendment as it invades the privacy rights of the cellphone holder. The Prosecutors and Government Lawyers have argued that there are no privacy rights to “stuff” like “signals” floating through the air and bouncing around once the cellphone owner turns on his or her cellphone. Which brings up a point that cannot be ignored, if the cellphone is turned “on” it will track the user until the battery goes dead or is manually turned off.

The Federal Appellate Court however ruled in U.S. v. Davis, that the privacy theory of the Fourth Amendment protection, governs the cell tower location data.  The court held that the government’s warrantless gathering of a criminal defendant’s cell site location information violated his or her reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, information obtained by the government, through warrantless means, to pinpoint the location of a cellphone carrier and their direction of travel violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court went on to reason that the Government’s actions of securing “cellphone” information bouncing around in the open air from tower to tower, without a warrant, is analogous to the Government tapping of a “hard” phone line wire outside on a telephone pole to determine who the insider caller is talking to.

If you have been arrested or you are seeking a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a loved one, because you believe cellphone tower position location is being used against you or the loved one by the government, then contact Attorney Andrew D. Stine. Criminal Defense Attorney Andrew D. Stine has been arguing motions to suppress, motions to suppress cellphone tower positioning in Florida State and Federal Courts for over a decade. Remember to Hire Stine or do the Time.

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