Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Jones II: District court holds that SCA's lack of suppression remedy and the good faith exception allows admission of CSLI

In the continuing saga of the case against Antoine Jones, the DC district court has held that the use of Jones's cell site location information does not violate the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Jones, No. 05-0386 (D.D.C. 2012). In January, the Supreme Court ruled that location information acquired as a result of law enforcement placing a GPS device on Jones's car could not be used at trial as it violated the Fourth Amendment.

During the initial investigation, law enforcement obtained both GPS data and cell site data but only sought to use the GPS data at trial. After the Supreme Court's determination that such data could not be used, the government sought to have CSLI introduced at Jones's retrial. The four months of cell site information had been obtained from Cingular Wireless under a 2703(d) order pursuant to the Stored Communications Act in 2005.

Jones's first motion to suppress argument was that prospective CSLI data (that which is acquired by the phone company after the order is issued rather than seeking "historical" data already obtained) cannot be obtained under the SCA without probable cause. The court held that a majority of courts have agreed, but the argument is irrelevant because the SCA does not provide a suppression remedy. Thus, regardless of a successful argument, the data would still be admissible under the SCA.

Of course, Jones's second argument was under the Fourth Amendment, which if successful would allow for suppression. The court thoroughly examined the different approaches for analyzing the Fourth Amendment's application to orders to obtain CSLI. However, the court declined to decide the issue, finding that the good-faith exception would apply, reasoning that at the time the order was obtained, the officers had no way of knowing how future courts would rule on prospective CSLI, and even today, the issue is not settled.


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