I’ve had several questions lately about the requirement in G.S. 15A-248 that “[a] search warrant must be executed within 48 hours from the time of issuance.” The specific concern is how this applies to searches of digital devices, which frequently require off-site forensic analysis that may not begin, let alone end, until substantially more than 48 hours after issuance of the warrant. Although we don’t have an appellate case on point in North Carolina, courts in other jurisdictions have held that so long as the initial seizure of the device is timely, the forensic analysis may be conducted later. Continue reading
Tag Archives: fourth amendment
Recent well-publicized incidents have led to questions about when a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to seize a fleeing suspect. The short answer is that the Constitution permits an officer to use deadly force when he or she has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or to others. Because officers must make “split-second judgments—in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving,” courts evaluate the reasonableness of an officer’s determination from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and without the benefit of hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). The Constitution “does not require police to gamble with their lives in the face of a serious threat of harm.” Elliott v. Leavitt, 99 F.3d 640, 641 (4th Cir. 1996).
Factors critical to evaluating the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force to effectuate a seizure include: (1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; and (3) whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by fleeing. Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. An officer’s subjective intent or motivation is not relevant to the inquiry, nor is the reasonableness of the officer’s actions in creating the dangerous situation. Waterman v. Batton, 393 F.3d 471, 477 (4th Cir. 2005)
The short answer seldom provides a definitive assessment of whether an officer’s use of deadly force in a particular circumstance violated a suspect’s constitutional rights. Even so, there are a few bright-line principles that can be applied to any such inquiry. Continue reading →
In 2016, the North Carolina Court of Appeals held in State v. Adams, 250 N.C. App. 664 (2016), that law enforcement officers acted lawfully when, lacking a warrant, they chased a man suspected of driving while license revoked into his home where they arrested him. The court determined that because the officers were engaged in hot pursuit, they did not need to establish additional exigent circumstances such as immediate danger or destruction of evidence to justify forcibly entering the suspect’s home. This year, the United States Supreme Court is reviewing a California case raising the same issue: Does pursuit of a person who a police officer has probable cause to believe has committed a misdemeanor categorically qualify as an exigent circumstance sufficient to allow the officer to enter a home without a warrant? See Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 1617 (2020) (granting review of People v. Lange, No. A157169, 2019 WL 5654385 (Cal. Ct. App. Oct. 30, 2019) (unpublished)). Continue reading →
Two years have passed since the Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States, 585 U.S. ___, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (2018), that the government carried out a Fourth Amendment search when it obtained historical cell site location information (CSLI) for the defendant’s phone from a wireless carrier. Relying in part on the view expressed by five concurring justices in United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400 (2012), that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the whole of their physical movements, the court determined that allowing the government access to at least seven days of historical cell-site records contravenes that expectation, even when the records are generated for commercial purposes and held by a third party.
The Carpenter majority characterized its decision as “a narrow one” and noted that it was not expressing a view on “real-time CSLI or ‘tower dumps,’” disturbing the traditional application of the third-party doctrine, or “call[ing] into question conventional surveillance techniques and tools, such as security cameras.” Id. at 2220. Dissenting justices, in contrast, characterized the court’s reasoning as “fractur[ing] two fundamental pillars of Fourth Amendment law,” and “guarantee[ing] a blizzard of litigation while threatening many legitimate and valuable investigative practices upon which law enforcement has rightfully come to rely.” Id. at 2247. (Alito, J., dissenting).
Lower courts have applied and distinguished Carpenter in a number of cases involving electronic surveillance and the obtaining of location and other types of information from third parties. This post, the first in a three-part series, summarizes post-Carpenter decisions relating to surveillance by pole camera and tower dumps. The second post in this series will examine post-Carpenter rulings on the obtaining of real-time surveillance through GPS or CSLI. The third post will consider the use of cell site simulators and the obtaining of other information about a person’s on-line activities or accounts from third parties. After reading all three, you can decide for yourself whether Carpenter’s progeny has bolstered the majority’s view of its limitations or has borne out the dissent’s warnings regarding its reach.
Spring is only a few weeks away. Soon preparation will begin for the rites of the season, among them pruning, planting, and, of course, prom.
A few weeks ago, I chaperoned a dance at my son’s high school. (I elected not to tell him that I was chaperoning, so you can imagine his reaction when he saw me there. For more about that, please check out my parenting blog.) When I walked into the gymnasium, I saw tables laden with dozens of bright yellow flashlight-shaped devices. The school had not stockpiled flashlights for gazing into dark corners. Instead, these were portable breath testing instruments awaiting samples of air drawn from the deep lungs of teenagers. Every student seeking admission to the dance was required to submit a breath sample. Only students who registered no alcohol concentration were eligible to attend the dance.
After the dance, someone asked me whether it was lawful for a school to require students to submit to a breath test before admitting them to a school function. My answer? Yes. My reasoning? See below. Continue reading →
I have long thought of the exigent circumstances doctrine as an exception to the warrant requirement – it allows a search to be conducted when probable cause is present but it is impractical for officers to take the time to obtain a search warrant. That understanding was shaken when I read Phil Dixon’s summary of United States v. Curry, 937 F.3d 363 (4th Cir. 2019). The majority in Curry ruled that exigent circumstances allowed officers to search several men without probable cause or even reasonable suspicion because they were walking away from an area where shots had just been fired. In other words, the court took the position that exigent circumstances excused not only the lack of a warrant, but also the lack of individualized suspicion. Have I been mistaken all these years? Continue reading →
The North Carolina Supreme Court held in State v. Terrell, __ N.C. __ (Aug. 16, 2019), that a private party’s limited search of a defendant’s thumb drive did not frustrate the defendant’s legitimate expectation of privacy in the entire contents of the electronic storage device. The detective who searched on the heels of the private party could not be virtually certain that he would find nothing else of significance on the device or that his search would do no more than corroborate what the private searcher had told him. Thus, the court concluded that the detective could not lawfully search additional folders on the thumb drive without a warrant after the private party turned the device over to law enforcement.
WRAL has several stories up about geofencing warrants. One major article is here. It describes a search warrant obtained by the Raleigh Police Department in a murder case. The warrant ordered “Google [to] hand over the locations of every [mobile] device within the confines of [a defined geographic area] during a specified time period.” In a nutshell, the police were trying to figure out who was near the scene of the crime when the murder took place and asked Google to comb its data banks to find out. This post is intended to start a conversation about warrants of this kind. Continue reading →
While preparing to teach a recent class about search warrants for digital devices, I spoke with a number of experts in digital forensics. Each conversation was very helpful. Almost all of them touched on an issue I’d never previously considered: whether search warrants for cell phones do or may include the authority to search connected cloud services. Continue reading →