Court Suppresses Phone Search, Telling Cops A Warrant With No Probable Cause Is Like Having No Warrant At All

Not every crime is linked to a cell phone, no matter what cops may think. True, cell phones are omnibuses of information, containing overflowing email inboxes, social media posts, personal contacts, photographs, text messages, vast amounts of location history, etc., but not every crime generates evidence on a phone, not even one carried by a suspected criminal.

To search a phone, law enforcement must (in theory, anyway…) be able to show a connection between the phone and the crime. And they must obtain a warrant, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Riley decision. The warrant should (again, in theory…) contain something more than copy-pasted boilerplate stating that criminals often carry phones and ipso facto probably have more evidence of their crimes on their phones.

But pushing boilerplate past a judge whose eyes glaze over the moment the boilerplate kicks in is at least as easily done as said. Most local judges — unless viewing something particularly novel and/or terribly written — are willing to give warrant affidavits a pass as long as they contain enough words about training, expertise, and unchallenged assumptions about criminal acts and cell phone adjacency.

In this case, the shitty affidavit survived a review by a local judge but isn’t able to survive a challenge by the defendant, Michael Anthony Williams. Williams was one of several men arrested at a Super 8 motel. Police, following a tip from a motel employee, converged on the eight suspects and immediately noted some weapons in a parked car belonging to one of them. Tucson PD officers made a telephonic warrant request to not only search one motel room but also all the men arrested and any cell phones in their possession. (h/t FourthAmendment.com and CaseText [for the copy of the opinion])

But the warrant request was incredibly weak. It failed to do the things people expect warrants to do, like justify all of the searching the Tucson cops wanted to do. The court’s opinion [PDF] features this very dry footnote near the beginning that gives a good picture of what’s to come later in the decision.

As will become evident in text infra, the Court is quite critical of the government’s various arguments. However, to be fair, government counsel did a heroic job of trying to save the state and federal search warrants given the hand she was dealt. It just wasn’t “in the cards.” But the District Judge will be a new dealer.

Officers involved in the arrest and subsequent searches were asked if they thought the affidavit requesting a warrant to search Williams’ phone had enough probable cause to be legitimate. Their answers were… less than satisfactory.

Detective Padilla believes that the affidavit establishes probable cause. Id. Counsel then probed into what leads Detective Padilla to that conclusion. Detective Padilla agreed that the affidavit mentions Williams by name and that he has a prior felony and therefore cannot possess a firearm. Id. But he also agreed that the affidavit does not say that Williams possessed a weapon, that he was around a weapon, that he was near the Tahoe that contained weapons, or how close he was to guns found in the bushes. Detective Padilla also agreed that the affidavit only mentions that Williams is a prohibited possessor and “present with the others.”

So, being near a gun (while being a convicted felon who can’t actually possess a gun) was somehow enough probable cause to search a phone carried by a person who wasn’t actually carrying a (forbidden) gun.

Probable cause or not, Detective Padilla stated (repeatedly) the PD would have held onto Williams’ phone even if the warrant hadn’t been granted (remember: seizures alone require warrants). According to Padilla, the Tucson PD would have held the phone as “property” or “evidence,” changing the designation as needed to keep it in the PD’s possession until it was given the go-ahead to search it. So there’s that on top of anything else. If the warrant had been rejected, the PD would have held the phone until it could get a warrant approved, never mind lacking the probable cause to continue holding it after Williams’ release from detention.

The “nexus” between the seized phone and the guns Williams wasn’t witnessed “possessing” didn’t appear to matter to Detective Padilla. As he told the trial court, his “training and experience” was all he felt he needed to connect the phone to the alleged crime, which was (apparently) being a felon near weapons.

The court minces few words letting the government know what it thinks about its attempt to turn speculative fiction into probable cause.

The Court finds that the search warrant affidavit comes nowhere near to establishing probable cause for the search of the cell phone. Simply put, this is a no-brainer. In fact, the government’s conclusory argument noted above demonstrates the futility of their position in trying to save the search warrant for the cell phone. As the defense points out, there is no attempt to link the crime to the phone, let alone an effort to detail why the phone is likely to contain evidence of a crime. At its essence, the affidavit says that the defendant was suspected of committing a crime (and it doesn’t do a great job of that) and that he had a cell phone when arrested. If those facts amounted to probable cause, there would be no limit to law enforcement’s ability to obtain a search warrant for every arrestee’s phone. The alleged crime, whether it be a serious felony or a misdemeanor, wouldn’t matter. All that would matter is that the person had a phone when arrested.

Good faith? LOL. Forget about it.

The good faith exception does not apply to Detective Padilla’s affidavit. It is not even a close call. In fact, if the good faith exception applied to the case at hand, a defendant could never challenge a probable cause determination. This is the classic case of where an affidavit lacks any indicia of probable cause. As discussed earlier, the search warrant affidavit says only that the defendant is a prohibited possessor, he was with seven other men in the vicinity (although the “vicinity” was never specified) of where firearms were found, and he had a phone. The Court finds that no reasonable officer could have relied in good faith on the search warrant when the only evidence detailed in the affidavit was that the defendant had a cell phone, just like virtually every adult in the United States (and many kids now as well), when he was arrested on the suspicion that he was a prohibited possessor of firearms.

The beating continues, making it clear the government’s arguments are as terrible as its warrant.

Finally, the Court notes that Detective Padilla testified that they obtained a search warrant for the phone to further the investigation. That makes perfect sense. But that will almost always be the motivation for law enforcement officers when they arrest someone with a cell phone, given the vast amount of information that can be stored on these minicomputers. In their perfect world, law enforcement officers would love to always be armed with a search warrant that allows them to rummage through an arrestee’s phone to discover inculpatory evidence or evidence that would assist or further their investigation. However, the means used to obtain that information – i.e., a search warrant based on probable cause – must be lawful to justify the legitimate ends of preventing or investigating criminal  activity. Searching a phone to further an investigation, even when coupled with the fact that the defendant was arrested and had a phone, does not amount to an indicia of probable cause.

On top of everything else, the PD held Williams’ phone for a year, despite it being unable to find anything interesting until the ATF obtained its own warrant (a year later) and managed to extract more data and information, producing the evidence that is now suppressed. The PD had no probable cause to effect the seizure, much less follow through with the (mostly failed) search. It certainly did not have the probable cause to deprive someone of their phone for a year after having recovered nothing useful on its first pass. The evidence is suppressed and, as can clearly be seen by what’s quoted above, the magistrate reviewing this case is entirely unimpressed with the government and its obvious Fourth Amendment violations.

Having a warrant is a step in the right direction, but this wasn’t a legitimate warrant. It was just a bunch of bland assertions backed by speculation and delivered telephonically to a judge who apparently couldn’t be bothered to actually search the boilerplate for probable cause. That isn’t enough. Fortunately, one court is having none of it.

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Comments on “Court Suppresses Phone Search, Telling Cops A Warrant With No Probable Cause Is Like Having No Warrant At All”

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30 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

So much for 'training and expertise'

The Court finds that no reasonable officer could have relied in good faith on the search warrant when the only evidence detailed in the affidavit was that the defendant had a cell phone, just like virtually every adult in the United States

With this kind of incompetence, at what point does this detective’s ‘training and expertise’ become useless given how blatant a fuck up this is?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

at what point does this detective’s ‘training and expertise’ become useless given how blatant a fuck up this is?

Considering that cops aren’t legally required to know the laws they’re arresting you for allegedly breaking, odds are high that law enforcement really doesn’t care.

Kudos to the court for their decision. I expect davec will be coming along, thumping his chest, angrily screaming “Retribution!”

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Calling this incompetence fails to state what it actually is: illegal behavior by cops, designed to hinder the defendants, and is routine practice in EVERY police department, as they pursue so-called “gangs.”

the only evidence detailed in the affidavit was that the defendant had a cell phone

Exactly.

Their goal was to cripple the defendants communication ability, and possibly follow him as he purchased a burner, whereby they could instantly access the burner by other illegal means.

Ex-cons in the USA are forced by these tactics to live in a parallel universe of parallel constructions of all kinds. The modern two tiered society started there.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re: Re: Re:3

You Nazi’s and your allies in a certain Jewish community are a riot/s. Azov troll’s are better than the stuff you put online tho, just sayin’.

As for your love of the Institute for Statecraft type rhetoric, aka “projection” in your terms it is precisely YOU that have demolished democracy, not your much-feared and nearly fabled “Russian trolls! CCP and the Chi-uh-neeeese!!!”

And since you sperficate endlessly about the latter, it is important that I point out that the Quincy Institute agrees with me–your type of schismogenesis and bipolar narrative has virtually handed the economy straight to both of your enemies pockets.

I know you and your other trolls above are too stupid to understand it all, but other’s will get what I am saying.

From QI:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently claimed that Chinese leadership has “announced its ambition to create a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and to become the world’s leading power.”
Blinken is wrong: no Chinese leader has ever made such a clear statement. But Blinken’s mischaracterization is only the latest notable signal of a dangerous trend in Washington, where U.S. government officials are significantly inflating the threat that China poses to the United States. This threat inflation actually hurts America’s interests at home and in the region, and it increases the chances of a disastrous U.S.-China conflict.

So, carry on with your trolling, AC-bot, while the adults in the room pause for a momentto watch what it is that you do here–in every thread.

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DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re: Re: Re:2

Thanks, NATO forever-war troll!

insert Nina Jankowicz cloned as an AC here, add Institute for Statecraft talking points

Yeah, but wutabout DBA-PC? Huh!?

Then, this

Optional: redirect to now [now abandoned II/IfS disinformation website for psychological effect] (https://www.statecraft.org.uk/), or just laugh that laugh–you know the one, about Ukrainian Nazi’s and NATO expensionism.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re:

A fine line? These kinds of cops will blatantly lie steal and cheat–and as we saw, will also kill–they make you a permanent target, and try to frame you in crimes.

George Floyd worked at El Nuevo Rodeo, a major cross-roads for Mexican cartels and other LatinX peoples–and cops in that area have a little side-syndicate, whereby they try to control all the ports of entry to bars and entertainment venues.

So–beyond a hard-on for Floyd, Chauvin and his gang wanted control of that venue, in typical “gang” style. Door jobs there pay out at 250-500 per night, and the profitable side hustle’s are endless.

Note also that the other cops involved also started their careers in the food service industry, ratting out colleagues for smoking weed, etc. Many, many others were targeted in absurd and bizarre ways, long before George.

These gangs of cops stalk and harass in the most bizarre ways–I personally suspect that Floyd was set up with the fake $20 dollar bill too.

All first amendment auditors know what this is–gangs of cops, who stalk people. Here’s a recent case from San Luis Obispo, where they stalked an auditor after he filmed a brutality event.

Its called gang stalking, wherein the cops throw out the law, and make a person’s life a living hell if they can get away with it. Note the Chief of POS’ use of the words “stalking,” and “targeting,” and “coincidence,” in the article.

It’s designed to force targeted ex-cons and others to re-offend, thereby keeping them under one or another form of custody permanently.

The good news is that these gangs can and are being caught, and prosecuted, because cell phone cam’s don’t lie. The latest conviction, of coward-cop Thomas Lane is here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2

While true, the links our CCP-aligned troll has tried to feed us through his verbal diahorrea links to anti-Semitic bullshit being pushed by the Russian State and passed along by willing or clueless idiot actors.

There’s also his admission that he prefers the total surveilance of the Russians and the Chinese over the total surveilance of NATO plus some of the crazier shit he’s talked about Five Eyes. Meaning to say, even if he’s NOT aligned with the CCP, he certainly tolerates using the CCP’s troll army methods over the JIDF bullshit, or, as he calls it, CIA schismogenesis.

Along with a very heavy emphasis of how the US, NATO and its allies of convenience are way worse than the Chinese and Russians…

I will not be surprised if he tries to call me a CIA agent, pedophile or something else.

I’ve been called worse. By my China-supporting countrymen.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re: Re: Re:3

Well, when you said that you are dedicated to:

a very heavy emphasis of US, NATO and US-FVEY’s allies for the convenience of shifting wealth to the Chinese and Russian oligarchs

I can’t really disagree with your position there. That IS what is happening, by every metric.

You are also correct–watching so-called US-FVEY’s democracies (tribute to Malcolm X for that phrase “so-called) implode, or self-immolate (Finland, Sweden cunts, et al.) is interesting, and the fallout even more-so.

Yet you, imbued with so much obvious, toxic ADL-hasbara/ Institute for Statecraft/ NATO bullshit in your brainwashing as evidenced by your comment, it’s like weeding through the Pasco County, FL Chris Nocco sheriff scandal, where he buzzed forensic students with helicopters because they weren’t students who were “invited to the party,” whatever “your” party is–I am guessing you are an anti-constitutional, and fascist–regardless, the body farm is indeed a political hotbed and reeks as you might expect, of carcasses, some as yet to be discovered, lol.

Plant daisies, fer-Christ’s-sake!–or remove the FBI trained and sperged Nocco and its spawn there.

That party–YOURS, the fascists.

Now, about that time when, at a peace march, some Feebie Jeebie Pakistani spooks in training-via-Quantico were photographing my cock, and taking measurements, saying totally crazy shit like “Wow–even the turban heads cannot hide such a monstrosity underneath their dresses,” and my favorite ” if an inch is one of twelve, what is a foot”

An eye for an eye? Try “a third leg for a third leg,” Alhamdulalah! Needless to say, the member is still in the membership, ALHAMDULALLAH! In Alhambra, CA nonetheless.

But for the sake of decency explain this thing that is half a yard long?! They said. Explain it’s utility in modern breeding appparatuses (hithertofore called vagina’s, but later-to-fore called non-binary front vagina’s v. anus vagina’s or something close)

Who could ever approach such phallic power without laughter, or trepidation?! Me there, just rying to pee in a park, after hours!?

I could only say then, yes.

I know EXACTLY who you are, fat joweled, not much attractive Pakistani Girl–you, there, underneath your 1000 veils of Quantico asshattery, and bad choices in clothing (and haircuts)–that fake Louis Vuitton backpack–those badly chosen Nike shoes–I knew it then, too. And now, also of course.

Obvious spergbergers be obvious spergbergers, across the board–and across the internet. But feel free to send $100k via Monero for the full course. It’s a “doozie,” according to some.

Lastly– maybe I should pay YOU, spergberger, for this admission of your delegation:

even if he’s NOT aligned with the CCP, he certainly tolerates using the CCP’s troll army methods over the JIDF bullshit, or, as he calls it

JIDF so silly–always triggered by those of us who reject Zionism, or Christian-Jewish Supremacy, and supremacy in general, in all of itsUkrainian Prostitutes So Victimized, Zelinsky!!!–forms.

Now Onward To To Japan!!!! Manga!!! Waifus4Laifus!!!

Listen–we know who you are, and we know what YOU do, Mega, eta al. For the sake of humanity, marry a shiksa, little piggy, have piglets, and breed yourself out of existence–join the human gene pool.

And be done with your own inert racism. Liberation soon follows.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re: Re: Re:3

For the record, I did not miss this I saw it whole clothe–

I’ve been called worse. By my China-supporting countrymen

The problem is, you, an AC and possibly a former Chinese, and me, an actual American–might continue this conversation elsewhere, but you routinely derail shit, for whatever reason. Start in Arcadia, CA, or Houston, for laughs, sperg. I have been down those roads.

And:

  • stupidity
  • agency trolling does not pay well enough, Two Cents per sperg
  • blind faith in your hasbara manual, as if it was “G-d’s” revelation from a mountain top
  • allegiance to the Institute for Statecraft, their NATO spawn, and shovel-faced girls like Nina Jankowicz
    A waste of time, 99% of it, because you are just a sperger.

Whatever you are, an obvious pedophile–a baby stealer, etc., or way worse–supporter of the Institute for Statecraft–you do you like nothing else does you. Keep it up–but find a way to monetize it fer-Christ’s -sake.

What you do is classic trolling–respectable trolling, I might add–I despise you, burt understand what you are doig there, in grandma’s basement.

Unlike yourself, I am a real person, and also unlike yourself–and I have dealt with your types for decades.

SO, yeah, your trolling skills are good, but you STAND FOR NOTHING that I can discern. That’s a problem when we discuss paychecks, do you see?

One day, you derail actual activism, the next day, you are a simpletron and troll-sperg–regardless, the net effect is that you cause derailment. A useful, if over-applied skill-set.

Try that shit with Wireshark, fifteeen phones, and a hotline to a Fusion Center, and it becomes a nightmare of subversion. You are in fact, a subverter.

I am in fact, a liberator.

Trolling is not what you think it is. Many have actually died by rote. So–yeah, wutever. SPerg-ON!

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