The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a case that could have implications for Texas residents and other Americans. The question in the case is whether police can obtain location information collected by cellphones and stored by service providers. Carpenter v. United States involves criminals who stole smartphones from Radio Shack locations in Ohio and Michigan. After stealing the phones, they were then sold on the black market.
Of the 15 people involved in the crime spree, all but two confessed to their actions. In addition to collecting witness and other evidence, police found that cell tower records showed that one of the uncharged criminals received or made phone calls in the general vicinity of where the crimes took place. The only question was whether the police needed to obtain a warrant before accessing that information.
While police did obtain an order under the Stored Communications Act, this threshold is lower than actually obtaining a warrant. Some believe that police having access to such information is no different than observing or tailing a suspect in person. Others believe that this could be a violation of a person's expectation of privacy.
Anyone who is facing a criminal charge may face penalties such as jail or prison time. Consulting with a criminal defense attorney may make it easier for a client to create defenses to the charge. Defenses may include asserting that evidence was obtained illegally or that a person was observed when he or she had an expectation of privacy. This may result in greater leverage to negotiate a plea bargain or increase the odds of obtaining an acquittal in a criminal case.