The ubiquity of cell phones has completely changed many aspects of the world—including criminal investigations. Law enforcement officers and investigators often closely examine the contents of a cell phone of a criminal suspect or defendant. Cell phones can reveal call and text history, social media messages, emails, photos and videos of recent activities, and more. Police and prosecutors also regularly claim that reviewing cell phone tower data can indicate where you were at a certain time and try to use this as evidence in criminal cases.
When members of criminal juries hear that cell tower records place you in the area of the crime scene at the time of the crime, it can leave a lasting impression and can often lead to a guilty verdict. You need a criminal defense lawyer who knows about the unreliability of such evidence and how to present this issue to a jury.
Questioning Cell Tower Location Data
Police and prosecutors have used cell tower data for years to claim that they can determine a defendant’s location because a cell phone was connected to a certain tower at the time. This argument is based on a common misconception of how cell towers work, however. First, proximity is not the only factor that determines which cell tower your call will go through. The following can also determine the tower your phone used:
- Atmospheric conditions
- Signal strength
- Tower maintenance schedules
- Tower capacity
You could make several calls from the same location in a highly populated area and connect through any one of several different towers. Therefore, that your call went through a specific tower is not a necessarily a true indication that you were closer to that tower than any other.
In addition, towers can serve areas that span several square miles in an urban area to several hundred square miles in more remote areas. There is no way to pinpoint an individual’s precise location simply by knowing what tower facilitated a call. However, authorities have requested cell tower location data and used it as evidence in criminal cases for years, often presenting it as foolproof. Any defense attorney in one of these cases should know how to challenge this type of evidence in front of a jury.
Fourth Amendment Issues
Not only does it matter how cell location data is used as evidence—it also may matter how law enforcement obtained the information. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the case United States v. Carpenter, in which police obtained cell location data without a warrant and used the data to convict the defendant of robbery. However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is arguing that the cell location data was used in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Cell location data can reveal a lot of personal information about a person. For example, in the above case, the data revealed 12,898 of Carpenter’s locations during the course of 127 days. From the records, the ACLU argues you could deduce where Carpenter went to church, when he slept at home or away from home, and many other private details of his life. Police do not have the right to invade someone’s privacy without probable cause and a search warrant. Warrants are needed to search through someone’s cell phone, and the ACLU argues the same should hold for location data. The case is pending and we at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC will watch for the Supreme Court decision to determine how it can affect our clients’ cases.
Do Not Wait to Contact a Connecticut Criminal Defense Law Firm
The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Koffsky & Felsen, LLC know how to challenge many types of evidence that prosecutors and police may use against our clients. We can identify unreliable evidence or whether authorities violated your constitutional rights and when the court should therefore suppress the evidence. We explore every possible option for an effective defense strategy. If you need help with any type of criminal matter, call (203) 327-1500 or contact us online today.