Connecticut Criminal Law & Injury Blog

Connecticut criminal defense attorney for digital evidenceThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that all citizens have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government without a warrant. This provides protection against unfair tactics by prosecutors when a person is facing criminal charges. However, in the 21st century, the increased use of digital media has resulted in a slew of complexities in criminal cases. The Fourth Amendment was written to protect the privacy of American citizens, but what happens when your private digital files are no longer private to only you? In some cases, the “private search doctrine” may apply.

What Is the Private Search Doctrine?

Using the private search doctrine, once a private party (who is not involved with the government) has already done an initial search, the government can repeat that search without infringing upon the property owner’s individual Fourth Amendment rights. Basically, the private search doctrine allows the government to perform a search that is not technically a search in the Constitutional sense.

A Recent North Carolina Case Sparks Controversy

In 2014, a North Carolina woman was looking for a photograph on her boyfriend’s USB thumb drive. While she was clicking through folders and subfolders on the drive, she came across a partially-nude photo of her nine-year-old granddaughter. Upset, she stopped her search and informed her daughter of the photo. The pair took the thumb drive to the police station, where a detective began to look through the folders to find the photo the woman was referring to. While the detective was looking, he saw other photos that he thought might be child pornography. Once he found the photo of the woman’s granddaughter, he stopped his search and obtained a warrant to search the thumb drive for photos of child pornography.

Charges were filed against the woman’s boyfriend. He argued that the warrantless search of his thumb drive violated his Fourth Amendment rights, but the trial court admitted the evidence uncovered by the police officer and ultimately ended up convicting him. The case went to the appeals court, which overturned the conviction on the grounds of violating the Fourth Amendment. The state brought the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled that the search was unconstitutional.

When Is a Search a Search?

With the issue being so controversial, this case may soon end up in the United States Supreme Court for a final ruling on whether or not the search in question actually violated the Fourth Amendment. The private search doctrine states that a government “search” is not actually a search if the unit being searched has already been viewed by a private individual. In these cases, the question becomes, “What is the unit being searched?” Is the “unit” the thumb drive itself, or does it refer to a folder or subfolder within the thumb drive?

In the North Carolina case, the detective did not seek to find other evidence of child pornography on the man’s thumb drive, and he stopped his search after he found the photo in question. However, there was no telling whether the folders and subfolders that he looked through during his search were the folders and subfolders that the woman also opened when she found the photograph in question. The question of whether the photos found are admissible as evidence in court may play a significant role in these types of cases going forward.

Contact a Hartford, CT Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Applying Constitutional rights to criminal cases can be tricky in today’s world. At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we understand the complexities involved in these types of cases, and we fight to protect the rights of clients who are facing criminal charges. If you have been charged with a crime, and your case involves digital evidence, you need to contact our skilled Connecticut criminal law attorney today. Call our office at 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation.

Sources:

https://reason.com/2019/08/23/north-carolina-court-deepens-split-on-private-searches-of-digital-evidence/

https://www.yalelawjournal.org/forum/the-private-search-doctrine-after-jones

https://orinkerrblog2.files.wordpress.com/2019/08/55a18-1.pdf

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Hartford criminal lawyer for cell phone evidenceIn today’s world, there are many technological advances that previous generations could not even dream of being possible. As the world of technology has advanced, so has the world of forensics. Advancements in technology have also allowed advancements in gathering evidence and processing that evidence for use in criminal cases. Cell phones are one such piece of technology that is used all over the world as a source of criminal evidence.

What Kind of Data Is Used as Evidence?

Cell phones — especially smartphones — gather, process, and store all kinds of data. From the text messages you send and receive, the photos you share, or the websites you visit, almost everything you do on your phone is stored and can be retrieved, even if you have deleted it. Some common types of data that can be retrieved from cell phones include:

  • Text message records, including both SMS messages and multimedia messages
  • Call records
  • Data that has been downloaded or used on the device
  • Cellular tower information and GPS location data
  • Internet browsing history
  • Email content

How Do Police Gather This Evidence?

Currently, there is quite a bit of difference as to how cell phone records can be accessed from state to state. Only a handful of states require a warrant to obtain cell phone data — and Connecticut is not one of them. Many have argued that obtaining such personal and revealing information from a cell phone without a warrant for that information violates the rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, which prevents unreasonable searches and seizures.

How Reliable Is Cell Phone Data?

The reliability of cell phone data is also an issue when it comes to using it in court. Officials have stated that the use of cell phone tower evidence is not reliable information when it is used to determine the location of a person at a specific point in time. Many think that a cell phone connects with the cell phone tower that is physically nearest to a person’s location, when in reality, a device typically connects with the tower that has the clearest signal, which is not always the closest tower. Sometimes, a cell phone can connect with a tower that is more than 20 miles away from a person’s physical location.

Recently in Denmark, law enforcement officials have stated that they will be reviewing more than 10,000 court verdicts because of errors in cell phone tracking data. The worry is that some of the verdicts that used this type of evidence were incorrect or unfair verdicts based on inaccurate cell phone location data. This has also been a concern that has been expressed in Connecticut and across the country.

A Knowledgeable Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Assist You With Your Case

Many people who are involved in the criminal justice process do not understand enough about cell phone data to make accurate decisions on whether or not cell-phone-based evidence is admissible in court. If you have been accused of a crime based on information from your cell phone, you should call a Hartford, CT criminal defense attorney. At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we can help you fight the use of cell phone evidence in your case or pursue an appeal for a verdict that used cell phone evidence. Contact us at 860-290-8690 to arrange a free consultation.

Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/world/europe/denmark-cellphone-data-courts.html

https://www.apnews.com/3117cc859d0e47f0827b9310efa1f355

https://www.courant.com/politics/hc-lender-cell-phone-tracking-0208-20150207-column.html

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 Connecticut criminal law attorney for facial recognition evidenceSince the 1990s, facial recognition technology has become more and more common. What was once just wishful and futuristic thinking is now present in our everyday lives in the United States. Home security devices use facial recognition to identify whether or not a visitor is someone you know. Some airports have implemented facial recognition software at check-in terminals to confirm your identity when you fly. Perhaps the most disturbing use of facial recognition technology is when it is used by law enforcement officials in criminal cases.

Federal Agencies Use Facial Recognition Technology

According to The Washington Post, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been using various states’ driver’s license databases to access photos of millions of Americans without their knowledge or permission. The FBI has long had access to biometric data such as DNA and fingerprints — but that data was taken from criminal suspects. The majority of the estimated 640 million photos the FBI has access to are of Americans who have never been charged with a crime. Facial recognition searches have become a routine investigative tool by the FBI, but many have argued against the effectiveness of this relatively new technology.

Many Claim Facial Recognition Is Too Inaccurate to Be Used in Law Enforcement

Aside from the privacy concerns that many Americans and lawmakers have, there have also been concerns about the accuracy of facial recognition software in correctly identifying a person. The California American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conducted a study in which photos of the 120 members of the state legislature were run through facial recognition software marketed to law enforcement agencies. Results from the study concluded that one out of every five lawmakers (26 people) were incorrectly matched with people in a database of arrest photos. Even more concerning was the fact that nearly half of those who were incorrectly identified were people of color.

What Does This Mean for Me?

It is extremely likely that the federal government has access to your biometric data. Information such as your driver’s license or passport photograph could potentially be used without your permission during surveillance or in the investigation of a crime. Due to the inaccuracies that still exist in this technology, it is possible that you could be falsely accused of a crime based on the results of a facial recognition scan.

Consult With a Hartford, CT Criminal Defense Lawyer

Facial recognition technology is still too new and unregulated to be used effectively by law enforcement. At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we understand the risks and legal issues associated with the use of facial recognition, and we can help you defend against criminal charges stemming from these technologies. Call our Connecticut criminal defense attorney today at 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation.

Sources:

http://www.statewatch.org/news/2016/oct/usa-perpetual-lineup-face-recognition-database-report-10-16.pdf

https://www.aclu.org/blog/privacy-technology/surveillance-technologies/fbi-has-access-over-640-million-photos-us-through

https://www.aclunc.org/news/facial-recognition-technology-falsely-identifies-26-california-legislators-mugshots

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/07/07/fbi-ice-find-state-drivers-license-photos-are-gold-mine-facial-recognition-searches/

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Hartford assault charges defense lawyerCrimes committed against members of the LGBTQ community have risen slightly over the past three years. According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), most hate crimes are based on bias toward race and religion, but the number of hate crimes (which may include assault or other violent crimes) based on sexual orientation has risen each year between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, there were 1,130 hate crime incidents reported to the FBI that were based on sexual orientation. In some cases, when the alleged offenders are prosecuted, their defense attorneys use what is called the “gay panic” defense. In recent years, this defense has been outlawed in many states, and Connecticut recently joined the group of states who do not consider the gay panic defense as a legitimate defense strategy.

What Is the “Gay Panic” Defense?

A person who allegedly committed assault or murder against a person may claim that they did so because of the alleged victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This type of strategy may involve claims of insanity or diminished capacity that occurred due to an interaction with a person who is gay or transgender. An alleged offender may also claim that they were provoked to commit a violent offense because of sexual advances made by the alleged victim. The gay panic defense is often seen as blaming the alleged victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity for the alleged offender’s actions. Those who oppose the use of this defense have stated that it may be used to justify and excuse the assault or murder of LGBTQ victims.

Lawmakers Seek to Ban the Gay Panic Defense

Currently, eight states have passed legislation to effectively ban the use of the gay panic defense, with five of those states passing the legislation in 2019. Connecticut’s governor signed a bill banning the use of this defense in June of 2019. He stated that this legislation was necessary because the use of this defense strategy implies that the lives of gay and transgender individuals are less important than the lives of others. Members of the U.S. Congress are currently attempting to introduce legislation that would ban this defense in federal court. Legislation banning the gay panic defense has also been introduced in seven other states and the District of Columbia.

Contact a Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyer

The gay panic defense has been used for decades, but it is now banned in many states, including Connecticut. If you are facing assault, aggravated assault, or even murder charges, you need the help of an experienced Hartford, CT violent crime defense attorney. At the Woolf Law Firm, LLC, we understand the impact a violent crime charge can have on your life. We can help you determine a defense strategy that can help you avoid a conviction or reduce your charges. Call our office today at 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/connecticut/articles/2019-06-22/connecticut-governor-signs-bill-banning-gay-panic-defense

https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2017/topic-pages/tables/table-1.xls

https://lgbtbar.org/programs/advocacy/gay-trans-panic-defense/

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