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Electronic data as evidence

When mounting a criminal defense, keeping out evidence that could turn the jury against the defendant is critical. But the prosecution will use every legal precedent to get that evidence before the jurors. Evidence that has been obtained without a warrant is usually a target of the criminal defense team.

Proving the defendant’s location at the time a crime was committed can often be crucial to the prosecution’s success. The defense can use Fourth Amendment rights to argue against the admissibility of this evidence. The United States Supreme Court may soon be focusing on the ability of law enforcement to obtain some of this evidence without a warrant.

Tracking someone’s location by using cellphone location data is the technique at issue. Right now the states are divided on the issue, although the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that privacy rights may be more important than allowing prosecutors to use real-time location data. And the 11th Circuit, in which Florida is included, recently ruled in favor of required warrants for this data, although that ruling was later overturned.

Advocates of the stricter law say that Fourth Amendment rights have to evolve to encompass technology as it evolves. And some court decisions seem to be leaning in that direction. Over the last three years, the United States Supreme Court has extended protections to GPS tracking and to cellphone searches, even after the owner of phone is arrested.

Law enforcement and prosecutors sometimes try to circumvent Fourth Amendment protections by using other methods to obtain electronic data. In the case that could get U.S. Supreme Court consideration, a Florida man was convicted of a string of robberies with evidence that included 67 days of cellphone records. Rather than obtaining a warrant, authorities used a law that requires less proof to obtain the information as a way around stronger Fourth Amendment obstacles.

As the law on this issue evolves both in Florida and across the country, criminal defendants who may be facing trial based upon cellphone evidence can rely on a criminal defense attorney who will be in top of these developments and use any rulings favorable to the defendant to mitigate criminal charges.

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