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East Hartford criminal defense lawyer for illegal searchesMany of the laws in the United States were written hundreds of years ago, when the most advanced forms of technology available were bifocal eyeglasses and steamboats. In today’s world, where everything is at your fingertips in the form of a handheld device, the application of these laws can become tricky. In recent years, people have argued that their Fourth Amendment rights have been overstepped at U.S. border checkpoints. Millions of people travel in and out of the United States on a daily basis, and they may be subject to electronic device searches, whether they are U.S. citizens or not. The question is, are these searches legal?

Civil Liberties Advocates Argue for More Privacy

In recent years, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have been searching more and more electronic devices at U.S. borders. In 2015, there were an estimated 8,500 searches conducted on electronic devices at the border. In 2018, there were 33,000 searches conducted, which is a three-fold increase. Many civil liberties advocates, most notably the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have argued that these searches are often done for no apparent reason and violate the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Privacy Advocates

In 2017, a lawsuit was filed against CBP by 11 people (10 of whom are U.S. citizens and one who is a lawful permanent resident) alleging that their electronic devices were taken by CBP, and their personal data was searched for no apparent reason. Recently, a federal judge in Boston ruled that CBP agents cannot take travelers’ electronic devices and conduct suspicionless searches. The U.S. has long asserted that it does not need to issue warrants to search devices at the border, but this judge has concluded that CBP agents must have reasonable suspicion and be able to point to specific facts to justify the search before a search is conducted.

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cell phone, Connecticut criminal defense attorneyWe live in a world that is more connected than it has ever been. With a few taps on a smartphone, it is possible to access virtually any piece of information and to connect people from around the globe. One of the most pressing questions of the digital age, however, is in regard to protecting personal privacy. Do we forfeit our privacy by using our mobile devices? According to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding a robbery conviction, the answer to that question is “no.”

Constant Signals

Any time that your cell phone is on, it is sending and receiving signals to and from cell towers in the area. These signals let the towers know that your phone is turned on and ready to receive incoming calls or messages. They may also be using the towers to access the internet so apps like Facebook and Instagram, or even basic email, can be updated. What you may not have considered is that every time your phone connects to a nearby tower, a record of that connection is made.

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search, East Hartford criminal defense attorneyThe Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The operative word in that phrase, however, is “unreasonable.” Over the last 240 years, courts at every level have attempted to define what constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure in a variety of situations. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court was presented with two conflicting interpretations of the Fourth Amendment—one as it applies to a person’s home and the other as it applies to a person’s vehicle.

Collins v. Virginia

The case originated in Albemarle County, Virginia in June 2013 where a rider on a distinctive orange and black motorcycle fled and eluded police at high rates of speed twice in the period of several weeks. The police used found the person they believed to be in possession of the motorcycle and that the motorcycle was likely to have been stolen. Using social media, the police were able to link the suspected owner/rider to an orange and black motorcycle. Social media also allowed police to find an address for the suspect.

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When a person is arrested in a home or an apartment, it is understandable for the law enforcement officers making the arrest to conductive a protective sweep of the residence to ensure that nobody is hiding or waiting to attack the officers. While protective sweeps are considered a type of search under the Fourth Amendment, they are often permitted without a warrant.

Sometimes, however, the police overstep their bounds and use such sweeps as a justification to conduct evidentiary searches. When evidence is uncovered as the result of such a search, it may be considered tainted and the court may rule that the evidence is inadmissible. A recent ruling by a federal court in Connecticut highlights the importance of limiting the scope of protective sweeps.

Sweep Following an Arrest

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stingray, Connecticut criminal defense attorneyAnother court has issued a ruling that effectively tells police, “Just because you are able to track people does not mean that you are allowed to do so.” The decision was handed down by an appeals court in Washington D.C.—the District’s equivalent of a state appellate court—and addressed the use of cell-site simulator devices. The devices are more commonly known by the brand name StingRay and allow law enforcement to locate a cell phone by sending and receiving signals that imitate the performance of a cell tower. The ruling is the latest in a string of similar court decisions that have held the use of StingRays without a warrant to be a violation of a suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights in most cases.

Great Power

Cell-site simulators give the police the ability to track a cell phone and, sometimes, intercept phone calls and text messages. The problem, however, is that the simulators collect the same information from any other phone in the vicinity. As a result, the police can, in effect, track any cell phone without a person’s knowledge or consent. Civil liberty advocates say that such capabilities must be limited by requiring a warrant, as tracking a person’s cell phone without approval from the court constitutes an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

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