Last updated on November 2, 2021

Recent Supreme Court Opinion Broadens Your Right to Privacy

Though you may not pay close attention to headlines in the legal world, you may want to take note of a recent opinion from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The landmark case of Carpenter v. United States, which arose out of events and criminal allegations in Michigan, has significant implications for anyone who is charged in a crime based upon cell phone data. In sum, the finding expands your privacy rights because it limits the type of information police can obtain without a warrant. You should entrust your case with a knowledgeable Michigan criminal defense lawyer, but some important information may help you understand your rights.

Case Synopsis

Telecommunications providers capture and archive data of customers for billing and other legitimate business purposes. A user’s phone bounces off the closest tower and delivers the time, date, and location information back to the company. These details can be very useful for law enforcement investigating the whereabouts of a person who is a suspect in a crime. Cell phone location data is exactly what Detroit, MI state and federal agents used to identify and arrest Mr. Carpenter. He was eventually convicted and lost on appeal, at which point he and his defense attorneys took the case to SCOTUS.

Pre-Carpenter Standard for Warrantless Searches

In deciding cases regarding the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, courts have traditionally held that police need a warrant to search in places where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Homes and businesses would qualify for protection and require a warrant. In cases involving vehicle searches, courts go the other way: No warrant is required to search your car because of the lesser expectation of privacy.

SCOTUS Opinion in Carpenter

The recent SCOTUS holding is a landmark case because the Justices carved out a new exception to constitutional protection regarding the expectation of privacy. In the opinion, the court noted that the public relies on cell phones for much more than just communication. Portable devices can reveal details about relationships, professional associations, and other intimate, personal information.

The opinion is a victory for anyone implicated or charged in a crime. The finding broadens the expectation of privacy and places the burden on law enforcement to get a warrant, supported by probable cause, to access cell phone records. Though the case specifically dealt with theft offenses, the rule will apply in any other situation in which your cell phone location data may be used to link you to a crime. Plus, Carpenter is now the law of the land, not just in Michigan where it originated.

Consult with a Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Rights

If you were arrested for a crime and believe your constitutional rights were violated, it is essential to work with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer. Cases involving proper warrants, searches, and privacy are extremely complicated. You are in a better position to defend yourself with a knowledgeable attorney at your side. For more information, please contact the office of Paul J. Tafelski at (248) 451-2200 or go online to schedule a consultation.

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