For many criminals and suspects, cell phones seized from them by law enforcement agents can easily change from blessing to curse especially if they have incriminating text messages and other evidences. However, in a ruling that is bound to change the law enforcement sector a U.S. Court of Appeals sitting in the District of Columbia held that incriminating text messages cannot be used as evidence if they were obtained in a broadly issued search warrant. The ruling particularly questioned the legality of a search warrant issued with the view of taking advantage of the prevalence of cell phones in homes.
The 18 August 2017 landmark ruling whose legal ripple effects will be felt in cities all across the country for years to come stemmed from a court case involving a convicted felon who had been found guilty of unlawfully possessing a firearm. Ezra Griffith, a convicted felon, had been found guilty by a jury for unlawfully possessing a firearm in 2013. This was as a result of a police raid at his residence using a search warrant issued by a judge.
The warrant allowed law enforcement officers to search Mr. Griffith’s residence and take into their possession any cell phones and electronic devices found. The firearm in question had been thrown out of the felon’s window. The search warrant was requested by the police officers who were investigating a 2011 murder case. Mr. Griffith was suspected to be the driver of the vehicle that was used by the suspected murderers to get away from the scene.
From Admissible to Inadmissible Evidence
Following his conviction, Mr. Griffith’s attorneys appealed the ruling arguing that the search warrant was defective as it broadly focused on cell phones instead of a gun that could have been used to commit the crime. They therefore called on the judges to suppress the gun that used as the primary evidence in convicting Mr. Griffith.
In a 2 – 1 ruling, the U.S Court of Appeals held that the warrant was open-ended and based on the assumption that all suspects own cell phones just because cell phones are prevalent in homes across the country. In a majority ruling read by Judge Sri Srinivasan who was joined by Judge Nina Pillard, the court declared that the warrant was unconstitutional as it speculated that Mr. Griffith owned a cell phone and that the cell phone contained incriminating evidence. However, Judge Janice Rogers Brown held that the gun should have admitted as evidence as it was obtained as the police followed the law in obtaining it.