Supreme Court grants transfer in cellphone data privacy case

November 7, 2016

After an Ohio man’s convictions of armed robbery in Dearborn County were overturned by a divided Indiana Court of Appeals in August, the Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to hear the state’s appeal and decide if cellphone users have a reasonable expectation to the privacy of their tracked location information.

Indiana’s high court granted transfer in the case of Marcus Zanders v. State of Indiana, 15S01-1611-CR-571, last week after two Court of Appeals judges found that Zanders’ armed robbery convictions had to be vacated because the Dearborn County Sheriff’s Department did not obtain a warrant before receiving cellphone data that pinpointed Zanders’ location around the time of the robberies. That data was a crucial piece of the state’s case against Zanders and helped lead to his conviction of two counts each of Level 3 felony robbery with a deadly weapon and Level 4 felony possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

“Zanders had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the cell-site location data stored by Provider and obtained by (Dearborn County Sheriff’s Department) Detective (Garland) Bridges and his expectation was one that society considers reasonable and legitimate,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the majority in the Aug. 4 opinion joined by Judge Rudolph R. Pyle III. “Cell-site data is not the type of information which spoils or perishes during the short time it takes to get a warrant and, as such, imposing the requirements for a warrant under these circumstances would hardly shackle law enforcement from conducting effective investigations.” 

Judge James Kirsch dissented, writing that he did not believe the sheriff’s department had violated Zanders’ reasonable expectations to privacy of his location data, so his convictions should have been affirmed.

Zanders’ case was the only one granted transfer for the week ending Nov. 4. The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer to 20 other cases that week. The complete list of transfer decisions can be viewed here


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