from the get-a-warrant-maybe dept
Now we've got yet another ruling saying that looking at texts without a warrant violates the 4th Amendment. The case involved a six year old boy who stopped breathing and later died. His mother had called the police to report the not breathing bit... and while the police were in the house, they picked up the mother's cell phone and noticed a written (but unsent) text to her boyfriend which suggested foul play:
Wat if I got 2 take him 2 da hospital wat do I say and dos marks on his neck omgOther texts mentioned punching the kid. Not surprisingly, police used this to start a murder investigation, leading to the arrest of the kid's mother's boyfriend. Except... the court has now rejected much of the evidence because it was obtained in a manner that violated the 4th Amendment. Even though such info is clearly useful for the case, this (Rhode Island state) court didn't fall for the claim that "if it helps police, there aren't any 4th amendment concerns."
... the Defendant has a reasonable expectation of privacy in his text messages and in the apartment where the subject cell phones were searched and seized so as to grant him standing, under the Fourth Amendment, to challenge the legality of the searches and seizures of those phones and their contents by the police. Based on the tsunami of illegal evidence collected by the Cranston Police Department, this Court grants Defendant‘s suppression motions and excludes the State‘s core evidence from being used at trial, including the text messages, all cell phones and their contents, all cell phone records, and critical portions of the Defendant‘s videotaped statement and his written statement given to the police.The ruling will almost certainly be appealed, and it's reasonable to want to make use of any evidence that points to a potential murder suspect (especially one who killed a six year old boy!). But, at the same time, we believe in the 4th Amendment for a reason -- and we expect law enforcement to live by that in collecting evidence, or we cross over into a police state (and yes, some people think we're already there). It's the cases like these that are often the toughest, because it's so tempting to come up with some sort of excuse to allow the evidence in order to lock up someone "bad." But at the same time, you want courts to recognize the importance of the 4th Amendment for all of those other cases where people get unfairly searched without a warrant.