U.S. Sixth Circuit - The FindLaw 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Hey, That's My Cell Phone! -- Third Cir. Unimpressed With Sex Trafficker's Appeal

They had nothing on Michael Taylor Gardner without his cell phone.

That was his argument anyway, saying police shouldn't have searched his cell phone without his permission. But the judge didn't buy it, and he was convicted of trafficking a minor for sex and producing child pornography.

The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, mostly because Gardner gave his cell phone to a 17-year-old girl and she gave it to the cops. United States of America v. Michael Taylor Garnder is another case that shows that a cell phone can be dangerous.

Sex With Strangers

Gardner was arrested outside a motel room, where he had been waiting for the teenager. According to the court record, he sent her inside to have sex with a stranger.

Fortunately for the minor, the stranger turned out to be an undercover officer. The police asked for her cell phone, and she said they could search it.

The phone and witnesses told the story at trial: Gardner had pressed the girl into prostitution. He posted ads for her sexual services online. He took video and pictures of her having sex. He threatened to hurt her. He was convicted.

He appealed, arguing that the cell phone evidence should have been excluded because it was his cell phone and he did not give police permission to search it.

Control of the Phone

The Sixth Circuit said it was about control of the phone, and whether a reasonable police officer would believe the teenager had authority to use it. She was identified in the case as "B.H."

"B.H. used the phone to speak with the customer," the panel said. "She used it throughout the day to arrange the details of the get-together. She had the phone, and only that phone, during the date. She knew the phone's passcode. And she gave it to the officers."

Still, Gardner seemed to say, police should have known it was his phone. He claimed the teenager told them.

"That's not what the arresting officers remember," the judges said. "But even if this were true, B.H. by all reasonable appearances had 'joint access or control.'"

Gardner won't have a cell phone for a while anwyay. He got two concurrent 10-year terms.

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