Federal Judge Rules Cell Phone Spying Without Warrant Unconstitutional

A Manhattan federal judge has ruled that it is unconstitutional for police to use cell phone tracking equipment without a search warrant. This ruling is part of a case in which the United States Drug Enforcement Administration used one of these devices, known as a StingRay, without a warrant to find evidence in an apartment in order to find a suspected drug dealer. WGRZ’s Michael Wooten spoke to constitutional attorney Barry Covert about the issue and what it may mean for police investigations going forward. The full story is available on the WGRZ website.

Fourth Amendment violation

The judge ruled that this seizure of evidence violated the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees that people will not be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes. Mr. Covert told WGRZ that this ruling, which has earned praise from the American Civil Liberties Union, is “absolutely a landmark ruling”. “This technology violates an individual’s expectation of privacy,” he said.

Police departments taking chances with technology

“A sheriff’s department, or any law enforcement, is really rolling the dice now,” Mr. Covert went on to say. “They are now on notice that the only federal court that has looked at this has determined that it is unconstitutional and that’s the only ruling. They’re going to take a real chance if they want to use that technology without a warrant.”

Cases could be reopened

When WGRZ asked if defense attorneys may begin to consider reopening cases in which this type of evidence was used, Mr. Covert responded, “Absolutely. If there’s any way you can reopen it, you’re going to have a pretty good suppression motion.”

About Barry N. Covert

Mr. Covert is a senior partner in Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area. He is known for his aggressive representation of clients in the areas of New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; driving while intoxicated; constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense. Mr. Covert frequently provides legal analysis for WGRZ and other media outlets.