DC appeals court rules warrantless cell-tracking device unconstitutional

DC appeals court rules warrantless cell-tracking device unconstitutional

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the use of cell-site simulators to detect cell phone location without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment.

Appellee Prince Jones filed the lawsuit after police used “Stingray” [ACLU description] devices to obtain evidence of his committed armed kidnapping, sexual abuse, robbery and use of threats.

In considering whether the evidence should be precluded, the court found that the use of such device is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because, “[a] person’s awareness that the government can locate and track him or her using his or her cellphone likewise should not be sufficient to negate the person’s otherwise legitimate expectation of privacy.” Thus, use of the device without a warrant probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.

The court struck down the government’s argument that the exclusionary rule does not apply, thus the government should not be precluded from presenting the evidence unconstitutionally obtained.

[W]e reverse the trial court‘s inevitable-discovery ruling and reject the government’s argument that the good-faith doctrine precludes applying the exclusionary rule in this case. Because the admission at trial of the evidence obtained as a result of the unlawful search was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, we reverse Mr. Jones’s convictions.

The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.