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Justices grant transfer to smartphone self-incrimination appeal

December 12, 2018

The Indiana Supreme Court granted one petition to transfer last week, agreeing to hear a case of first impression in which law enforcement officers were barred from forcing a woman to unlock her smartphone as part of a criminal investigation.

Justices granted transfer in the case of Katelin Eunjoo Seo v. State of Indiana18S-CR-595, which began in July 2017, when Katelin Seo was charged with invasion of privacy, stalking, intimidation and other charges stemming from the alleged harassment of D.S. As part of the criminal investigation, the state obtained a warrant compelling Seo to unlock her iPhone, giving her the option to unlock the phone and remove the passcode feature, or to change the code to 1234.

However, Seo refused and argued that requiring her to disclose her password was the same as requiring her to disclose the “contents of her mind,” a violation of her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. After hearing argument on that issue in May, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued a split decision in which judges Paul Mathias and Patricia Riley found that the state had sought more than the compulsion of Seo’s passcode – it essentially sought the entire contents of her iPhone through the passcode. But in a 24-page dissent, Judge Melissa May argued the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected the notion that the Fifth Amendment is intended to protect privacy interests.

Constitutional attorneys and technology experts said the decision in Seo marked one of the first times state courts were asked to reconcile civil rights with advancing technology. They also said the case “begged” review by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Justices also denied 14 transfer petitions, including to Amir Basic, et al. v. Islamic Society of Michiana, Inc., et al., 18A-PL-799. Justice Geoffrey Slaughter voted to grant petition to transfer in the case, noting he believes the “Court of Appeals wrongly dismissed the appeal as untimely where the appellants appealed both the change-of-venue order and the dismissal order following final judgment and that the appeal should be remanded to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings.”

The full transfer list for the week ending Dec. 7 can be read here.

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