Our cell phones and laptops normally are subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy, meaning that police cannot search them without a search warrant or an applicable exception to the warrant requirement. But when a person abandons a digital device, he or she relinquishes that expectation of privacy and police may examine the device without a warrant or an exception. This post discusses when a device has been abandoned and explores several common fact patterns.
Inquisitive police officers regularly ask suspects questions like “Can I take a look at your phone?” or “Can I see your phone?” These on-the-street requests may give rise to legal questions in court. For example, if the suspect hands over the phone in response, does that provide consent for the officer to search the phone? And if so, what is the scope of the search that the officer may conduct? This post explores those issues.
Shea posted here about a 2019 opinion from the Sixth Circuit holding that chalking tires for purposes of parking enforcement was a Fourth Amendment search and rejecting at least some of the proposed legal justifications for the practice. That case led to some further proceedings and eventually to a new opinion, Taylor v. City of Saginaw, Michigan, 11 F.4th 483 (6th Cir. 2021), holding that the suspicionless chalking of tires (1) is a search, (2) is not justified as a community caretaking function, and (3) is not justified as an administrative search. The Taylor court ruled that the law was not previously clearly established, so the parking officer whose conduct was at issue was entitled to qualified immunity. But going forward, warrantless tire chalking is a no-no in the Sixth Circuit. Now another circuit has weighed in with a different perspective.
The indispensable search and seizure legal reference is back and better than ever! That’s right, the sixth edition of Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina is now available for purchase here on the School of Government’s website. Read on for more information about the content, changes, and pricing of the new edition.
For our last official criminal justice class, we heard from five more teams of students about their research projects. (At the students’ request, we also scheduled an extra evening session to watch the third best movie ever made about the law and lawyers—answer at the end of this post.) Once again, the students worked on a wide range of topics and, once again, I learned from the students. Here are some quick takeaways along with a brief discussion of one of the topics—double jeopardy, or more accurately, the absence of double jeopardy protections in the UK.
For U.S. readers, the title of this post may not seem quite right. You’ve heard of stops, based on either reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and frisks for weapons following a stop. You know about racial disparities in criminal justice data. But, what’s stop and account? Stop and search? And, how do they differ from stops and frisks? As I’m in London for the fall, the answer is pretty obvious that these terms refer to police authority in the UK. What may be less obvious is how this authority resembles the stopping powers of law enforcement officers in the US.
On Friday, the Supreme Court issued a long-awaited opinion in Carpenter v. United States. The Court held that when law enforcement obtains long-term cell site location information from a suspect’s service provider, it conducts a Fourth Amendment search that normally requires a warrant. Although the majority opinion states that it “is a narrow one,” the dissenting Justices and some scholars see it as a seismic shift that may have many aftershocks. I’ll summarize the case and then use former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s famous approach to address the “known knowns,” the “known unknowns,” and the “unknown unknowns” after Carpenter.
Author’s note: The North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Terrell, ___ N.C. ___, 831 S.E.2d 17 (Aug. 16, 2019), affirmed the court of appeals judgment discussed below. The state supreme court’s decision is discussed here.
More than thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Jacobson, 466 U.S. 109 (1984), defined the private search doctrine. Jacobson held that the Fourth Amendment is not implicated by the government’s inspection of private effects when that inspection follows on the heels of a private party’s search and does not exceed its scope. This is because the search by the private party frustrates an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the item or area searched.
Jacobson thus determined that federal agents’ warrantless examination of a package of cocaine discovered by Federal Express employees and their field testing of its contents was not a Fourth Amendment search. When federal agents inspected the contents of the package, they “learn[ed] nothing that had not previously been learned during the private search,” and when they tested the substance to determine whether it was cocaine, they did not abridge any legitimate privacy interest.
In the ensuing decades, state and federal courts have applied and refined this analysis to determine the lawfulness of warrantless governmental searches of videotapes, computer disks, luggage, and other items turned over to law enforcement officials by private parties. And yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Terrell, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2018), considered whether the private-search doctrine insulated from Fourth Amendment scrutiny the government’s search of a USB flash drive turned over by the defendant’s girlfriend after she discovered among its contents a photo of her nine-year-old granddaughter sleeping without a shirt on.
If a law enforcement officer obtains a search warrant for a suspect’s cell phone, may the officer use the phone to access cloud storage to which it is linked? For example, may the officer click on the Dropbox icon on the phone’s home screen and see what’s there?
The new edition of Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina, Fifth Edition, 2016 is now available. Continue reading for additional information.