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7th Circuit ponders search of cell phone

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which likened modern cell phones to computers, had to decide whether police could search a man’s phone for the phone’s number without a search warrant.

In United States of America v. Abel Flores-Lopez, No. 10-3803, police suspected Abel Flores-Lopez supplied drugs to dealer Alberto Santana-Cabrera, who then unknowingly sold them to a police informant. Police tracked down Flores-Lopez and Santana-Cabrera and arrested them. Police seized a cell phone on Flores-Lopez and two from the truck he was in. Flores-Lopez only admitted to owning the one found on him. Police searched that phone at the scene of the arrest to obtain Flores-Lopez’s phone number. That number was used to produce three months of the phone’s call history, which was introduced into evidence.

Flores-Lopez objected to the admittance, but that was overruled. He argued that the search was unreasonable because police didn’t have a warrant, so the evidence obtained from the phone company shouldn’t be admitted.

Judge Richard Posner examined the issue by comparing modern cell phones to computers and whether just looking for a phone’s number – and nothing more – is allowed without a warrant. Cell phones are containers of data, much like a diary, but also go beyond diaries because they contain far more personal and private information and data, he wrote.

“It’s not even clear that we need a rule of law specific to cell phones or other computers. If police are entitled to open a pocket diary to copy the owner’s address, they should be entitled to turn on a cell phone to learn its number,” Posner wrote.

He also looked at the urgency issue – do police need to obtain the cell phone’s number right away? There is the possibility of an arrestee erasing all the data from his phone, either on scene or remotely.

In the end, the appellate court decided the invasion of privacy by looking for just a cell phone number of a phone was slight. It could be obtained by doing a quick search on the phone and without seeing other data.

 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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