Law Enforcement Permitted To Obtain GPS Location Data Without A Warrant In A Sex Trafficking Investigation
In United States v. Gilliam, 15-387, the Second Circuit (Newman, Winter, Cabranes) held that, under the exigent circumstances present in that case, law enforcement could use cell phone GPS data to locate a suspect without obtaining a warrant consistent with both the Stored Communications Act and the Fourth Amendment. This appeal presents one of many unanswered questions arising out of cellphone technology. While cellphones are far from new, there are still some questions about how cellphone data can be used in investigations and at trial.
In United States v. Caraballo, 12-3839-cr (L) (August 1, 2016) (Calabresi, Lynch, Lohier), the Court held that “exigent circumstances”—here, suspicion of involvement in a recent murder and potential danger to law enforcement—justified a warrantless “pinging” of defendant’s cell phone to determine his location. The Court accordingly affirmed the district court’s denial of defendant’s motion to suppress statements he made after police located him through a series of “pings” executed by his cell phone carrier.
In United States v. Stavros Ganias, 12-240, the Second Circuit, in a rare en banc ruling jointly written by Judges Livingston and Lynch, sidestepped a complicated Fourth Amendment issue related to the government’s retention of files from a hard drive outside the scope of a warrant, and instead affirmed the defendant’s conviction on the ground that, regardless of whether there was a Fourth Amendment violation, the government reasonably relied in good faith on a later warrant to search those files. The en banc holding reversed the decision of a divided Second Circuit panel that came down nearly a year ago, which reversed the district court’s denial of the motion to suppress and vacated the judgment of conviction. All of the judges on the Court, except for Judge Chin, either joined in the opinion or concurred in the result. The novel and important question raised in this appeal—whether the government can retain electronic files collected pursuant to a search warrant and later search those files for a separate purpose, pursuant to a second search warrant—will need to be addressed in another case or by Congress.