Bad Warrant for GPS Data Trumped by Cop's Good Faith

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By George Khoury, Esq. on March 05, 2019 2:10 PM

In a panel decision out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, one defendant is catching a tough break after the court found that the warrant that secured his cell phone location data was not supported by probable cause.

Despite the lack of probable cause, a divided panel found that the officer's good faith reliance on the warrant being supported by probable cause defeated the fact that it was not.

What Fourth Amendment?

The appellate court's opinion explains that the officer executing the search warrant for the suspect's cell-site location information (CSLI) had no reason to believe that the warrant was deficient in any way. However, as both the district and appellate court's agreed, the warrant was in fact deficient in that it laid out no probable cause whatsoever to support the collection of the suspect's CSLI.

This determination by the courts was not enough to convince the majority of the appellate panel that the evidence obtained should be excluded. The panel opinion noted that at the time the warrant was sought for CSLI, the procedures for this type of evidence was in flux, which provided the officers with a different perspective than one might have today.

In a dissenting opinion, one holdout judge explains that the majority got it flatly wrong, and that any officer executing the warrant, had they read it, would have seen the deficiencies as to obtaining CSLI as there was no mention of the suspect being involved in, or even in the same city as, the murder being investigated.

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