People retain a reasonable expectation of privacy in their whereabouts and they do not buy a cell phone expecting to be tracked by the government. Warrantless cell phone tracking here violated the state constitution. State v. Earls, 214 N.J. 564, 70 A.3d 630 (2013):
HELD: Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution protects an individual's privacy interest in the location of his or her cell phone. Police must obtain a warrant based on a showing of probable cause, or qualify for an exception to the warrant requirement, to obtain tracking information through the use of a cell phone.
1. A basic cell phone operates like a scanning radio and contacts the nearest site every seven seconds. Cell phones can be tracked so long as they are not turned off. With advances in technology, cell-phone providers today can pinpoint the location of a person's cell phone with increasing accuracy — to within buildings and even within individual floors and rooms within buildings in some areas.
2. The United States Constitution guarantees "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures ...." U.S. Const. amend. IV. To determine whether a violation of the Fourth Amendment had occurred, earlier cases focused on whether the government had violated an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy. Two cases that addressed the government's use of beepers or electronic tracking devices, United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276, 103 S. Ct. 1081, 75 L. Ed. 2d 55 (1983) and United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705, 104 S. Ct. 3296, 82 L. Ed. 2d 530 (1984), found no reasonable expectation of privacy in the monitoring of tracking devices in public, as opposed to private, areas. Decisions that have applied Knotts and/or Karo to cell-site data are divided. Some have found no violation of the Fourth Amendment, while others have found that the Fourth Amendment requires that police get a warrant to obtain cell-site data. A more recent decision of the United States Supreme Court rested on principles of trespass. United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 945, 181 L. Ed. 2d 911 (2012).
3. This Court has found that Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution provides greater protection against unreasonable searches and seizures than the Fourth Amendment. When people make disclosures to phone companies and other providers to use their services, they are not promoting the release of personal information to others. Instead, they can reasonably expect that their personal information will remain private. Using a cell phone to determine the location of its owner is akin to using a tracking device and can function as a substitute for 24/7 surveillance without police having to confront the limits of their resources. It also involves a degree of intrusion that a reasonable person would not anticipate. Details about the location of a cell phone can provide an intimate picture of one's daily life and reveal not just where people go — which doctors, religious services, and stores they visit — but also the people and groups they choose to affiliate with. That information cuts across a broad range of personal ties with family, friends, political groups, health care providers, and others. In addition, modern cell phones blur the historical distinction between public and private areas because phones emit signals from both places.
4. The focus under the State's search-and-seizure jurisprudence is on reasonable expectation of privacy concerns. As a general rule, the more sophisticated and precise the tracking, the greater the privacy concern. Today, cell phones can be pinpointed with great precision, but courts are not adept at calculating a person's legitimate expectation of privacy with mathematical certainty. What is clear is that cell phones are not meant to serve as tracking devices to locate their owners wherever they may be. No one buys a cell phone to share detailed information about their whereabouts with the police. Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution protects an individual's privacy interest in the location of his or her cell phone. Police must obtain a warrant based on a showing of probable cause, or qualify for an exception to the warrant requirement, to obtain tracking information through the use of a cell phone.
5. This opinion announces a new rule of law by imposing a warrant requirement. In determining whether today's holding should be applied retroactively, the Court must consider several factors, including "the effect a retroactive application would have on the administration of justice." State v. Knight, 145 N.J. 233, 251, 678 A.2d 642 (1996). The results in many cases would be jeopardized if the Court applied its holding in this case retroactively, causing a disruption in the administration of justice. Thus, the Court applies today's holding to defendant Earls and future cases only. As to future cases, the warrant requirement will take effect thirty days from today to allow the Attorney General adequate time to circulate guidance to all state and local law enforcement officials. For prior cases, the requirement in place at the time an investigation was conducted remains in effect. Starting January 12, 2010, law enforcement officials had to obtain a court order to get cell-site information under N.J.S.A. 2A:156A-29(e).
6. Under the plain view doctrine, the State cannot show that the officers were lawfully in the motel room because their presence flowed directly from a warrantless search of T-Mobile's records. Because the Appellate Division found that defendant had no privacy interest in his cell-phone location information and that the plain view doctrine applied, the panel did not consider the emergency aid doctrine. The Court remands the matter to the Appellate Division to determine whether the emergency aid doctrine applies to the facts of this case under the newly restated test.
The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED, and the matter is REMANDED to the Appellate Division for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion.
No Pingbacks for this post yet...
Fourth Amendment cases,
citations, and links
Latest Slip Opinions:
U.S. Supreme Court (Home)
Federal Appellate Courts Opinions
FDsys: Many district courts
FDsys: Many federal courts
Military Courts: C.A.A.F., Army, AF, N-M, CG
State courts (and some USDC opinions)
Advanced Google Scholar
Google search tips
LII State Appellate Courts
LexisONE free caselaw
Findlaw Free Opinions
To search Search and Seizure on Lexis.com $
Most recent SCOTUS
2009 to date:
Riley v. California, granted Jan.17 (ScotusBlog)
United States v. Wurie, granted Jan.17 (ScotusBlog)
Plumhoff v. Rickard, granted Nov. 15, argued Mar. 4 (ScotusBlog)
Stanton v. Sims, 134 S.Ct. 3, 187 L. Ed. 2d 341 (Nov. 4, 2013) (per curiam)
Navarette v. California, granted Oct.1, argued Jan. 21 (ScotusBlog)
Fernandez v. California, granted May 20, argued Nov. 13 (ScotusBlog)
Maryland v. King, 133 S.Ct. 1958, 186 L.Ed.2d 1 (2013) (ScotusBlog)
Missouri v. McNeeley, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (2013) (ScotusBlog)
Bailey v. United States, 133 S.Ct. 1031, 185 L.Ed.2d 19 (2013) (ScotusBlog)
Florida v. Harris, 133 S.Ct. 1050, 185 L.Ed.2d 61 (2013) (ScotusBlog)
Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409, 185 L.Ed.2d 495 (2013) (ScotusBlog)
Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, 133 S.Ct. 1138, 185 L.Ed.2d 264 (2013) (ScotusBlog)
Ryburn v. Huff, 132 S.Ct. 987, 181 L.Ed.2d 966 (2012) (other blog)
Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012) (ScotusBlog)
United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945, 181 L.Ed.2d 911 (2012) (ScotusBlog)
Messerschmidt v. Millender, 132 S.Ct. 1235, 182 L.Ed.2d 47 (2012) (ScotusBlog)
Kentucky v. King, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011) (ScotusBlog)
Camreta v. Greene, 131 S.Ct. 2020, 179 L.Ed.2d 1118 (2011) (ScotusBlog)
Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011) (ScotusBlog)
Davis v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011) (ScotusBlog)
Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 130 S.Ct. 546, 175 L.Ed.2d 410 (2009) (per curiam) (ScotusBlog)
City of Ontario v. Quon, 560 U.S. 746, 130 S.Ct. 2619, 177 L.Ed.2d 216 (2010) (ScotusBlog)
Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135, 129 S.Ct. 695, 172 L.Ed.2d 496 (2009) (ScotusBlog)
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009) (ScotusBlog)
Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 129 S.Ct. 781, 172 L.Ed.2d 694 (2009) (ScotusBlog)
Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009) (ScotusBlog)
Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364, 129 S.Ct. 2633, 174 L.Ed.2d 354 (2009) (ScotusBlog)
S. Ct. Docket
Solicitor General's site
Briefs online (but no amicus briefs)
Curiae (Yale Law)
Oyez Project (NWU)
"On the Docket"–Medill
S.Ct. Monitor: Law.com
S.Ct. Com't'ry: Law.com
General (many free):
Google Scholar | Google
LexisOne Legal Website Directory
Lexis.com (criminal law/ 4th Amd) $
Findlaw.com (4th Amd)
FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (2008) (pdf)
DEA Agents Manual (2002) (download)
DOJ Computer Search Manual (2009) (pdf)
Congressional Research Service:
Electronic Communications Privacy Act (2012)
Overview of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (2012)
Outline of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping (2012)
Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping (2012)
Federal Laws Relating to Cybersecurity: Discussion of Proposed Revisions (2012)
ACLU on privacy
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Criminal Appeal (post-conviction) (9th Cir.)
Section 1983 Blog
"If it was easy, everybody would be doing it. It isn't, and they don't."
"Love work; hate mastery over others; and avoid intimacy with the government."
—Shemaya, in the Thalmud
"A system of law that not only makes certain conduct criminal, but also lays
down rules for the conduct of the authorities, often becomes complex in its
application to individual cases, and will from time to time produce imperfect
results, especially if one's attention is confined to the particular case at
bar. Some criminals do go free because of the necessity of keeping
government and its servants in their place. That is one of the costs of having
and enforcing a Bill of Rights. This country is built on the assumption that
the cost is worth paying, and that in the long run we are all both freer and
safer if the Constitution is strictly enforced."
—Williams v. Nix, 700 F. 2d 1164, 1173 (8th Cir. 1983) (Richard Sheppard Arnold, J.), rev'd Nix v. Williams, 467 US. 431 (1984).
"The criminal goes free, if he must, but it is the law that sets him free. Nothing
can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws,
or worse, its disregard of the charter of its own existence."
—Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 659 (1961).
Any costs the exclusionary rule are costs imposed directly by the Fourth Amendment.
—Yale Kamisar, 86 Mich.L.Rev. 1, 36 n. 151 (1987).
"There have been powerful hydraulic pressures throughout our history that
bear heavily on the Court to water down constitutional guarantees and give the
police the upper hand. That hydraulic pressure has probably never been greater
than it is today."
— Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 39 (1968) (Douglas, J., dissenting).
"The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their
—Entick v. Carrington, 19 How.St.Tr. 1029, 1066, 95 Eng. Rep. 807 (C.P. 1765)
"It is a fair summary of history to say that the safeguards of liberty have
frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people. And
so, while we are concerned here with a shabby defrauder, we must deal with his
case in the context of what are really the great themes expressed by the Fourth
—United States v. Rabinowitz, 339 U.S. 56, 69 (1950) (Frankfurter, J., dissenting)
"The course of true law pertaining to searches and seizures, as enunciated
here, has not–to put it mildly–run smooth."
—Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610, 618 (1961) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).
"A search is a search, even if it happens to disclose nothing but the
bottom of a turntable."
—Arizona v. Hicks, 480 U.S. 321, 325 (1987)
"For the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person knowingly
exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth
Amendment protection. ... But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in
an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected."
—Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967)
“Experience should teach us to be most on guard to
protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born
to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded
rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men
of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”
—United States v. Olmstead, 277 U.S. 438, 479 (1925) (Brandeis, J., dissenting)
“Liberty—the freedom from unwarranted
intrusion by government—is as easily lost through insistent nibbles by
government officials who seek to do their jobs too well as by those whose purpose
it is to oppress; the piranha can be as deadly as the shark.”
—United States v. $124,570, 873 F.2d 1240, 1246 (9th Cir. 1989)
"You can't always get what you want /
But if you try sometimes / You just might find / You get what you need."
—Mick Jagger & Keith Richards
"In Germany, they first came for the communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for
the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic. Then they came
for me–and by that time there was nobody left to speak up."
—Martin Niemöller (1945) [he served seven years in a concentration camp]
“You know, most men would get discouraged by
now. Fortunately for you, I am not most men!”
—Pepé Le Pew
"There is never enough time, unless you are serving it."
"The point of the Fourth Amendment, which often is not grasped by zealous officers, is not that it denies law enforcement the support of the usual inferences which reasonable men draw from evidence. Its protection consists in requiring that those inferences be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime."
—Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 13-14 (1948)