The Florida Supreme Court stood up for the constitutional rights of every Floridian by finally stopping unlawful police use of a suspect’s cell phone tracking capability. New technology allows our government to track our location without our knowledge.
Here are some of the significant facts of the case. Florida police got a tip that the defendant was moving large quantities of drugs around Florida. Based on the tip and little other information detectives persuaded a judge to give them a warrant (known as a PIN warrant) to have access to all phone calls made to and from the defendant’s cell phone.
But the police went far beyond the warrant by making use of the cellphone to access the defendant’s constant movements using his cellphone as a real time GPS tracking device. No reasonable person could believe that the government would be intruding on privacy in such a way, yet in Florida law enforcement often goes far beyond what is reasonable. In the Tampa Bay area police have even gone to the extreme of setting up secret videos to swipe tag number information near legitimate hydroponic stores and police officers committing crimes such as armed trespass to gain information or officers lying about smelling marijuana to gain entry into homes without first persuading a fair-minded judge of the necessity of a valid search warrant.
Underlying the court’s decision is the notion that it’s unreasonable to expect Floridians to have to turn off their cell phones or to wrap their cellphones in aluminum foil in order to be certain that their real time locations are not being monitored by law enforcement. After all, each of us should be able to maintain some expectation of privacy. The Court threw out the large brick of cocaine that was unlawfully seized as evidence.
In the future warrantless GPS tracking in Florida will lead to evidence being thrown out by Florida Courts. Will officer’s abide by the new cell phone requirements? It’s not inconceivable that some law enforcement officers will gather inappropriate tracking information anyway and then try to justify arrests based on other information that was not actually useful in making the arrests. Courts will need to deal harshly with these officers. As citizens we must demand that officers follow the law or find some other way to make a living.
When there are cases where the government needs tracking information about a person’s location in real time, for example in preventing a terrorist attack, then the government will need to submit the need to a judge. The judge will require more than just a mere tip. The judge will want specific reasons why law enforcement believes the suspect is breaking or about to break the law. Persuading a judge that GPS tracking should be allowed should be a difficult burden if we are to live as free citizens in the future.
Remember that the criminal law in Florida is constantly changing. In Florida these issues of when a search warrant is required have been bubbling up for the past few years with appeals courts often in disagreement. It’s important in every Clearwater criminal case involving a search, a stop, an arrest warrant or a search warrant to have a criminal defense lawyer examine the facts as well as the prevailing Florida criminal law to make certain that your rights have not been violated.