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Cellphone confiscated by the Police?

On Behalf of | Sep 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently made a ruling in Anthony J. Richardson v. State of Maryland, that mandates police in Maryland be more specific when applying for warrants to search cellphones.  The court recommended that law enforcement agencies implement protocols to extract data from cellphones under more narrow parameters. If your cellphone is being used as evidence in the case against you, then Caroline Norman Frost can file a motion to suppress that evidence arguing that the protocols were not met by the law enforcement agency that confiscated your cellphone. Communication, GPS location, and pictures are just some examples of evidence extracted from cellphones to prove criminal charges.

Baltimore Police have stopped extracting information from cellphones, a powerful investigative tool. Baltimore Police average two phone extractions a day. Apparently, the Baltimore Police have put cellphone search warrant applications on hold while the department evaluates how to ensure that search warrants meet the requirements of the consequential opinion by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Additionally, Baltimore is not accepting any new requests. This pause on cellphone extractions in Baltimore will continue while the police consult with their legal department to ensure the current search warrant template meets all requirements.

Authored by Judge Biran, the opinion builds on federal court recognition that smartphones store private and sensitive information, including but not limited to a person’s bank records, personal photographs, location information, call logs, text messages and internet search history.  The State’s opinion emphasizes and supports the federal government’s stance that the government should not have unfettered access to those private contents. The recent decision makes it clear that there is a “particularity requirement” encompassed in the Fourth Amendment right to privacy and mandates that warrants for cellphones identify specific places, items and people to be searched or seized. Whereas police may have previously asked a judge for access to any and all phone data, the ruling says that law enforcement must narrow their probe to the information relevant to an investigation.

Blanket warrants to get into cellphones dates back to the 2014 landmark Supreme Court decision in Riley v. California, which established that law enforcement needed a court order to seize and search a cellphone. The most recent court decision in 2022 regarding the same issue is extremely important as it limits the extent to which the police are allowed to view the most intimate parts of a defendant’s life.  This decision is a huge development that all criminal defense attorneys and defendants should be aware of and strategize with. The recent decision should be utilized when preparing a defense in a case that involves cellphone evidence.

Baltimore County Police addressed the court orders as well.  The Baltimore County Police will be working with the Baltimore County State’s Attorney, Mr. Scott Shellenberger to ensure that the Police Department’s investigations satisfy all constitutional requirements. Anne Arundel County Police have NOT paused cellphone extractions, despite action taken by neighboring jurisdictions in light of the high court’s decision.  However, Anne Arundel County Police have been reviewing cellphone warrant application templates for compliance with Ms. Anne Colt Leitess, the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney.

The court referenced general guidelines for law enforcement and trial judges, provided examples of protocols for police departments and carved out exceptions, effectively leaving judge’s ample discretion on a warrant-by-warrant basis. This development means that defense attorneys should be doing detailed reviews of warrants in cases against their clients and writing motions to suppress specifying the lack of particularity in warrant applications.