Police agencies around the country and in Tampa Bay and Pinellas routinely track cell phone information without warrants according to a new cell phone tracking study by the ACLU based on findings and analysis of public records, which almost makes your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney want to sell his cell on ebay.
Most agencies follow a specific cell phone’s use and location. But some law enforcement agencies even avoid having to deal with the cell phone carrier by purchasing their own cell phone tracking technology. Other agencies will find all of the cell phones used at a particular location and time. 
An article in CNET on iphone lock screens even notes that many agencies routinely unlock iphone and android phone screens to search for criminal conduct or evidence on cell phones as a routine investigation tool:

Internal police documents reveal the legal processes that law enforcement agencies use to require Apple and Google to bypass the lock screens on seized mobile phones.

Training materials prepared by the Sacramento sheriff’s office include a fill-in-the-blanks court order that, with a judge’s signature, requires Apple to “assist law enforcement agents” with “bypassing the cell phone user’s passcode so that the agents may search the iphone.”
The disclosure provides more details about the increasingly common police practice of searching mobile phones, which are often seized during an arrest. Last year’s news that iOS stored logs of a user’s approximate whereabouts, something that Apple called a bug and soon fixed, also highlighted how interested law enforcement has become in accessing mobile devices.

Even Da Vinci couldn't keep his iphone records safe from the Tampa Bay and Clearwater Police.
Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of a Musician, 1490

Clearly, our local Tampa Bay area Police, as well as the Hillsborough and Pinellas Sheriff’s Departments, should define the limits of police intrusion into citizen’s cell phone use, set out in writing the defined limits of cell phone tracking and prescribe the factual situations when law enforcement officers must seek appropriate warrants signed by Judges when making protected fourth amendment searches, even if it’s just a Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyer’s cell phone.

Not even Leonardo da Vinci can keep his iphone records away from the Pinellas and Hillsborough Police Departments.


Our United States Supreme Court has granted certiari in Florida v. Harris, No. 11-817, a drug-sniffing dog case, which was featured in this blog in Can Drug Dogs Sniff For Warrantless Searches Outside Vehicles in Florida when the Florida Supreme Court made Aldo, our champion drug sniffer, an international Dog celebrity fawned, sprawled and pawed over at the best dog parks and fire hydrants around the world. 

Aldo the Florida drug sniffing dog whose reliability to find drugs is questioned by the Supreme Court

Aldo is a Dog whose fabulous stardom has hardly been diminished by his sad connection to drugs and the many unsavory characters whom he randomly sniffs, some of whom should be defended by your favorite Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

The holding of the Florida Supreme Court to be reviewed and possibly unleashed by the U.S Supreme Court could help a Clearwater Drug Defense Lawyer win Motions to Suppress improperly obtained evidence in Court:

We hold the fact that a drug-detection dog has been trained 
and certified to detect narcotics, standing alone, is not sufficient to demonstrate the reliability of the dog. To demonstrate that an officer has a reasonable basis for believing that an alert by a drug-detection dog is sufficiently reliable to provide probable cause to search, the State must present evidence of the dog’s training and certification records, an explanation of the meaning of the particular training and certification, field performance records (including any unverified alerts), and evidence concerning the experience and training of the officer handling the dog, as well as any other objective evidence known to the officer about the dog’s reliability. The trial court must then assess the reliability of the dog’s alert as a basis for probable cause to search the vehicle based on a totality of the circumstances. Because in this case the totality of the circumstances does not support a probable cause determination, the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress. We remand for proceedings consistent with this
opinion. See also brief from the Florida Attorney Generals office in Harris v. State

Here’s hoping that the dog biscuits a certain Pinellas Criminal Defense Attorney plans to send to the U.S. Supreme Court are enough to sway them toward affirming the Florida Supreme Court’s decision.


Deputies gained entry into Clearwater homes searching for marijuana without a warrant by donning the gear of utility workers according to the Tampa Bay Times. Apparently, it’s not unusual for Officers of the Law to lie to homeowners in an attempt to gain evidence of crimes in Pinellas, County Florida. If you’ve been falsely accused of a crime contact a Clearwater Criminal Law Attorney as soon as possible.

Think about it, our homes are our last refuge from the world. The one place in life where you’d hope to find rest, relaxation and peace. Yet rather than get a search warrant a Deputy lied to members of a Pinellas County family to clandestinely search for evidence of crime – marijuana plants in a home, which were not found.

“I was appalled by it,” Pinellas Conty Sheriff Gualtieri said Wednesday according to the Tampa Bay Times. “I think it’s wrong. It’s not what we should have been doing at all.” 

The Sheriff claims not to know what was going on. If he doesn’t know what his Deputies are doing he shouldn’t be the Sheriff. If he did know he and all of the Deputies who took part in this should be charged with crimes, including what you and I would be charged with, Burglary or Trespass or Identity Theft. It’s not the first time the Sheriff has had to apologize for his Deputies conduct. A few months ago this Blog noted that Sheriff’s undercover Deputies were giving false information to gain search warrants, using inappropriate video surveillance techniques and following shoppers at a horticultural store to look for evidence of pot growing all of which should not only offend your favorite Clearwater Drug Crime Attorney, but every citizen who understands that we must stand up for our freedom as Americans.

Maybe our Sheriff should read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, as that shredded piece of paper up in Washington still has some value as an historic relic even if law enforcement ignores the rights enumerated within or the Sheriff could read the Florida Statute below which he swore to Defend, then read it out loud so that one or two of his Deputies may hear it. The statute protects Floridians from unreasonable seizures and searches as only upon a showing of probable cause to a Judge based on an affidavit and sworn testimony then and only then can the sanctity of a Floridian’s home be violated :

Florida Statute 933.04  Affidavits.–The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches shall not be violated and no search warrant shall be issued except upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation particularly describing the place to be searched and the person and thing to be seized. (for the complete Florida Law on search warrants and their proper application by law enforcement see, Chapter 933 Search & Inspection Warrants)

Maybe the real problem here is that there is not enough real crime for these Deputies and for our head in the sands Sheriff to uncover. Maybe we need to slash the budget of the Sheriff’s Department to reflect the real needs of our community – protection from violent crime such as rape, armed robberies and burglaries – especially those not carried out by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department, also known as PCSO.

The Sheriff proudly wears his Utility Uniform.
Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate, 1890


This blog recently noted that the U.S. Supreme Court would be making an important privacy rights decision on law enforcement’s tracking of individual American’s movements thru GPS; defining American privacy rights into the digital age. 

The decision was handed down yesterday morning – the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court will help each of us maintain privacy and freedom of action in this wondrous, yet humbling digital age of almost unlimited camera surveillance, GPS spying, and Cell phone tracking by requiring that all law enforcement officers including those in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg & Pinellas first obtain a search warrant before placing a GPS device on a vehicle or on a person (say, for example inside your coat, purse or backpack). 

The result of this ruling heartens your Clearwater Defense Lawyer, by keeping American’s fourth amendment rights viable in an ever more fretful digital future. This case should also give grounds for the appeal of convictions in Pinellas criminal law cases described in an earlier Clearwater Criminal Attorney Blog where the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in a clear abuse of proper law enforcement procedure made secret videos of shoppers at a plant store taking down personal information only because people shopped there, though search warrants were later obtained the information was factually incorrect rendering those warrants facially invalid.

The oral arguments for the new Supreme Court case can be found here. The Brief for the U.S., NYT analysis

 Without obtaining a proper search warrant the Government installed a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle.  Government law enforcement agents then tracked the vehicle’s movements for 28 days subsequently securing an indictment of Jones and others on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. 
The lower court reversed, concluding that admission of the evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment
The Supreme Court Held: The Government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 3–12. 
(a) The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Here, the Government’s physical intrusion on an “effect” for the purpose of obtaining information constitutes a “search.” This type of encroachment on an area enumerated in the Amendment would have been considered a search within the meaning of the Amendment at the time it was adopted. Pp. 3–4. 
(b) This conclusion is consistent with this Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, which until the latter half of the 20th century was tied to common-law trespass. Later cases, which have deviated from that exclusively property-based approach, have applied the analysis of Justice Harlan’s concurrence in Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347, which said that the Fourth Amendment protects a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy,” id., at 360. Here, the Court need not address the Government’s contention that Jones had no “reasonable expectation of privacy,” because Jones’s Fourth Amendment rights do not rise or fall with the Katz formulation. At bottom, the Court must “assur[e] preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.” Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 34. Katz did not repudiate the understanding that the Fourth Amendment embodies a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas it enumerates. The Katz reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test has been added to, but not substituted for, the common-law trespassory test. See … post-Katz cases rejecting Fourth Amendment challenges to “beepers,” electronic tracking devices representing another form of electronic monitoring—do not foreclose the conclusion that a search occurred here. New York v. Class, 475 U. S. 106… 
(c) The Government’s alternative argument—that if the attachment and use of the device was a search, it was a reasonable one—is forfeited because it was not raised below. 

All in all a good day’s work for those folks on the Supreme Court – if you believe the police improperly obtained a valid search warrant in your case contact a Clearwater Crime Lawyer. 

A map of the Known World soon after the discovery of America – We’ll keep searching for America until we find her …


Pietro Coppo map (1520) 


Imagine a dark Orwellian world where everything you do is on video and everything you do is closely examined in the hope it can be used as evidence against you in the future.

Well, if you live in Pinellas County, Florida you don’t have to imagine that world anymore, as your Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office secretly put hundreds of customers under video surveillance for over a year at a plant store called Simply Hydroponics. Law enforcement then used identifiers of the customers, such as the tags on their vehicles to track them, spy on them and to obtain search warrants which contained at best highly unlikely information.

This should make every American angry and even makes your favorite Clearwater Defense Lawyer despair for the future of our country.
In one case law enforcement officers placed a plant store customer’s home under surveillance then swore under oath in a search warrant that they could smell the marijuana plants and heard the distinct noise of foliage being broken from within what they designated as a suspected marijuana grow house. Our intrepid detectives found a single marijuana plant upon forcing their way into the home.
If there’s one thing all of us as Americans should be against it’s unbridled government surveillance and the destruction of our privacy rights. Yet we should also agree that the inherent corruption which resulted in officer’s telling lies under oath must also be rooted out.
The surveillance, the lies, the misinformation and the failure of law enforcement to abide by basic American standards of Justice should result in the immediate investigations of every law enforcement officer and every prosecutor involved as prosecutors routinely draft, prepare and take the search warrants to Judges for signatures. 
A Grand Jury should immediately be convened by the Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate he highest positions at the Sheriff’s Office and at the State Attorney’s Office, to find who was responsible for placing the video equipment near the store, to find what other stores or public areas are secretly under surveillance and to bring to justice all of those who did this or allowed this to be done under their watch.

Here are a few excerpts about smell as possible probable cause from the St. Petersburg Times Article: Young plants don’t emit an odor, but if a person were growing “hundreds” of mature plants in a structure that wasn’t properly sealed, it’s “possible” an officer very close to the home would notice the smell…James Woodford of Chattanooga, Tenn., an expert on the topic of marijuana odor, said a large operation vented directly outdoors could generate an occasional “whiff” of marijuana detectable up to 25 to 30 feet away [i.e., less than half the distance between the sidewalk and Underwood’s “alleged grow room”]….Law enforcement officers commonly use the smell of marijuana to establish probable cause.
Drug Crimes Trial Lawyer & Criminal Defense Attorney in Clearwater, FL
Times Editorial: America shouldn’t be a surveillance society
Video Surveillance – Are Hidden Cameras Legal?
933.07 Issuance of search warrants.
(1) The judge, upon examination of the application and proofs submitted, if satisfied that probable cause exists for the issuing of the search warrant, shall thereupon issue a search warrant signed by him or her with his or her name of office, to any sheriff and the sheriff’s deputies or any police officer or other person authorized by law to execute process, commanding the officer or person forthwith to search the property described in the warrant or the person named, for the property specified, and to bring the property and any person arrested in connection therewith before the judge or some other court having jurisdiction of the offense.

(2) Notwithstanding any other provisions of this chapter, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, based on grounds specified in s. 933.02(4)(d), may obtain a search warrant authorized by this chapter for an area in size up to and including the full extent of the county in which the search warrant is issued. The judge issuing such search warrant shall conduct a court proceeding prior to the issuance of such search warrant upon reasonable notice and shall receive, hear, and determine any objections by property owners to the issuance of such search warrant. Such search warrant may be served by employees or authorized contractors of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Such search warrant may be made returnable at any time up to 6 months from the date of issuance.

933.04 Affidavits.The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable seizures and searches shall not be violated and no search warrant shall be issued except upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation particularly describing the place to be searched and the person and thing to be seized.

From Orwell’s novel 1984, The three slogans of the Party on the Ministry of Truth Building. 


Is it reasonable under the search and seizure doctrine enshrined in our constitution for our government to track Americans using GPS? If no warrant is required to track us, then every aspect of each of our personal lives is no longer private. Noting the division of the Federal Courts, it can only be hoped that the Supreme Court will side with individual liberty by requiring an independent judge’s approval before law enforcement use of GPS to track Americans. 

This NYT article gives a clear analysis of the legal issues involved:

Court Case Asks if ‘Big Brother’ Is Spelled GPS


Published: September 10, 2011

In a series of rulings on the use of satellites and cellphones to track criminal suspects, judges around the country have been citing George Orwell’s “1984” to sound an alarm. They say the Fourth Amendment’s promise of protection from government invasion of privacy is in danger of being replaced by the futuristic surveillance state Orwell described.
In April, Judge Diane P. Wood of the federal appeals court in Chicago wrote that surveillance using global positioning system devices would “make the system that George Orwell depicted in his famous novel, ‘1984,’ seem clumsy.” In a similar case last year, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the federal appeals court in San Francisco wrote that “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last.”
Last month, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn turned down a government request for 113 days of location data from cellphone towers, citing “Orwellian intrusion” and saying the courts must “begin to address whether revolutionary changes in technology require changes to existing Fourth Amendment doctrine.”
The Supreme Court is about to do just that. In November, it will hear arguments in United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, the most important Fourth Amendment case in a decade. The justices will address a question that has divided the lower courts: Do the police need a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car and track its movements for weeks at a time?
Their answer will bring Fourth Amendment law into the digital age, addressing how its 18th-century prohibition of “unreasonable searches and seizures” applies to a world in which people’s movements are continuously recorded by devices in their cars, pockets and purses, by toll plazas and by transit systems.
The Jones case will address not only whether the placement of a space-age tracking device on the outside of a vehicle without a warrant qualifies as a search, but also whether the intensive monitoring it allows is different in kind from conventional surveillance by police officers who stake out suspects and tail their cars.
“The Jones case requires the Supreme Court to decide whether modern technology has turned law enforcement into Big Brother, able to monitor and record every move we make outside our homes,” said Susan Freiwald, a law professor at the University of San Francisco.
The case is an appeal from a unanimous decision of a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which said last year that the government was simply seeking too much information.
“Repeated visits to a church, a gym, a bar or a bookie tell a story not told by any single visit, as does one’s not visiting any of those places in the course of a month,” wrote Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg.
He added: “A person who knows all of another’s travel can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”
Federal appeals courts in Chicago and San Francisco, on the other hand, have allowed the police to use GPS tracking devices without a warrant. The police are already allowed to tail cars and observe their movements without warrants, those courts said, and the devices merely allow them to do so more efficiently.
Judge Richard A. Posner, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel in the Chicago case, did caution that institutionalized mass surveillance might present a different issue.
Some judges say that world is fast approaching.
“Technology has progressed to the point where a person who wishes to partake in the social, cultural and political affairs of our society has no realistic choice but to expose to others, if not to the public as a whole, a broad range of conduct and communications that would previously have been deemed unquestionably private,” Magistrate Judge James Orenstein of the Federal District Court in Brooklyn wrote last year.
The case to be heard by the Supreme Court arose from the investigation of the owner of a Washington nightclub, Antoine Jones, who was suspected of being part of a cocaine-selling operation. Apparently out of caution, given the unsettled state of the law, prosecutors obtained a warrant allowing the police to place a tracking device on Mr. Jones’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. The warrant required them to do so within 10 days and within the District of Columbia. The police did not install the device until 11 days later, and they did it in Maryland. Now contending that no warrant was required, the authorities tracked Mr. Jones’s travels for a month and used the evidence they gathered to convict him of conspiring to sell cocaine. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The main Supreme Court precedent in the area, United States v. Knotts, is almost 30 years old. It allowed the use of a much more primitive technology, a beeper that sent a signal that grew stronger as the police drew closer and so helped them follow a car over a single 100-mile trip from Minnesota to Wisconsin.
The Supreme Court ruled that no warrant was required but warned that “twenty-four hour surveillance of any citizen of the country” using “dragnet-type law enforcement practices” may violate the Fourth Amendment.
Much of the argument in the Jones case concerns what that passage meant. Did it indicate discomfort with intense and extended scrutiny of a single suspect’s every move? Or did it apply only to mass surveillance?
In the Jones case, the government argued in a brief to the Supreme Court that the Knotts case disapproved of only “widespread searches or seizures that are conducted without individualized suspicion.”
The brief added: “Law enforcement has not abused GPS technology. No evidence exists of widespread, suspicionless GPS monitoring.” On the other hand, the brief said, requiring a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car “would seriously impede the government’s ability to investigate leads and tips on drug trafficking, terrorism and other crimes.”
A decade ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the police needed a warrant to use thermal imaging technology to measure heat emanating from a home. The sanctity of the home is at the core of what the Fourth Amendment protects, Justice Antonin Scalia explained, and the technology was not in widespread use.
In general, though, Justice Scalia observed, “it would be foolish to contend that the degree of privacy secured to citizens by the Fourth Amendment has been entirely unaffected by the advance of technology.”


One might think that a search warrant is always required to search a home in Tampa Bay, Florida or to search a vehicle in Tampa Bay, Floida. But over the years courts and legislatures have carved a large number of exceptions to this general rule despite objections from Clearwater Criminal Defense Lawyers.

For example, if an officer is given consent to search, or if an officer observes illicit objects “in plain view” or if an officer fears for his or her safety or if the officer is in hot pursuit of a Defendant incident to a crime then no search warrant may be necessary.

An officer is under no requirment to be honest with a citizen and part of effective police tactics often entails giving an individual a false impression of the legal status of a particular search. A judge will not throw out a case based on mere misrepresentation unless it is egregious or outrageous.

Many years ago while I was a green prosecutor, fresh and newly mented out of law school, a friendly officer who was fairly new to Florida but had earlier been a cop in New Jersey for a number of years, laughingly told me about a Defendant who was so verbally abusive upon arrest for something trivial that he wished he’d had a “throw bag.”

“Throw bag?” I asked (when I said I was green, I meant it).

He looked at me in disbelief that anyone could be so naive, “That’s a bag of meth or crack cocaine we’d carry up North to throw down on a guy whose causing trouble.”

The phrase they’d carry up North, with its past tense double denial of not me and not here, but it was the other officers and it was only in the North, led a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney to know that throw bags are a real threat to false convictions in Clearwater, Largo, St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay, Florida.

And recent Miami convictions of a number of police officers showed that the cops had thrown down a firearm at a crime scene to falsely prove that they’d shot a man in self-defense. The man they shot was actually unarmed. How did the case unravel? The firearm the police threw down had been taken from the police department’s own evidence room. Search and Seizure, fake subpoenas and lack of warrants be damned, all that’s really needed to convict an innocent man is one dishonest law enforcement officer.