Do Police Need a Search Warrant To Track Cell Phones?

For the first time a Federal Judge has ruled that law enforcement is required to obtain a search warrant before they  can use technology to track an individuals cell phone. US District Judge William Pauley wrote “Absent a search warrant, the government may not turn the citizens cell phone into a tracking device.”

In this case DEA agents used a device called a “Stingray” to track the defendant’s cell phone to an apartment. The Stingray device acts as a cell site simulator and causes a cell phone to ping off the simulator. In doing so, law enforcement can determine the location of the cell phone.

The court ruling will now require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before they can use the Stingray device. Prosecutors have yet to make a decision on whether to appeal the decision. The Justice Department has changed it’s policy to require a warrant now so it appears that prosecutors are anticipating that the courts will follow this logic.

Criminal defense lawyers must carefully review the prosecutions discovery to determine if the prosecutor is going to use the defendant’s cell phone to place him at the scene of a crime. If the police obtained that information through a “stingray” and didn’t obtain a search warrant then there are legal grounds to suppress the evidence.

If law enforcement did obtain search warrant to use the stingray device to track the defendant’s cell phone then the defense should careful review the probable cause affidavit to determine if there was sufficient grounds to establish probable cause.

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