Call Today for a FREE Consultation

262-923-8761

24 HOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT

Appeals court limits reach of search warrants for cellphones

| Aug 24, 2017 | Criminal Appeals

The mere fact that someone is under suspicion for a crime is not enough to justify a warrant for that person’s cellphone. The mere fact that most people have a cellphone is not enough to justify a warrant. A warrant issued with no more specific reason than those is unconstitutional, the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled recently.

Although the D.C. Circuit doesn’t include Wisconsin, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considered quite influential and has jurisdiction over much of what federal agencies do, and other federal courts will give weight to its decisions in their own cases.

The case before the appellate court involved a man who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a gun, which is prohibited. He was not initially suspected of possessing a weapon, however, but was thought to be involved as a driver in a separate crime.

In 2013, a judge issued a warrant which allowed the D.C. police to enter the man’s residence and seize any cellphones or electronic devices found there. When officers arrived at the residence, a gun was thrown from a window. They seized that gun and charged the defendant.

The problem was apparently that the search warrant wasn’t supported by any evidence that the man owned a cellphone or other electronic devices, or that those devices contained anything incriminating. The police who applied for the warrant thought it was enough to assume he had a cellphone because most people do, and to speculate that his cellphone probably contained incriminating information.

An overly broad warrant is often referred to as a “fishing expedition.” In order to obtain a search warrant, law enforcement is supposed to persuade a judge that they have probable cause to suspect that criminal activity or evidence of a crime will be found in the location to be searched. It cannot be based on guesswork, hunches or bias. The Fourth Amendment requires more than mere suspicion.

Judges ideally should recognize when a warrant is unsupported by probable cause and therefore decline to authorize a search warrant, but that doesn’t always happen. Whenever a search is found to be based on insufficient legal justification, however, it violates the constitutional rights of the defendant. The government is not allowed to benefit from violating people’s constitutional rights, so anything found during an unlawful search cannot be used in court.

In this case, the appeals court ruled that the weapon could not be used as evidence. Without that, the prosecution will likely have to dismiss the case entirely.

Archives

“I just want to say thank you for the outstanding work you have done for him and let you know how much we appreciate the time and attention you gave to his case. We are obviously overjoyed by today’s dismissal!” (Child pornography case dismissed after motion to suppress was granted)”

“After having had time to exhale, we thank each one of you and all the others who contributed to the exemplary Supreme Court presentation. We are proud of your efforts on our behalf and, equally important, on behalf of the many present and future defendants statewide.” (Client’s comment after Supreme Court oral argument)

“Thank you. Thank you. I am so pleased to hear that we won. It doesn’t seem that it was even a close call. I appreciate your efforts.” (Oconto County defendant after Buting, Williams & Stilling got his prison sentence overturned in the court of appeals) ”

“Your time and advice was appreciated more than words can express at a time when we really needed someone to guide us.” (Client)

“The outcome was amazing, one unavailable even under identical circumstances in probably 98 percent of federal courtrooms around the country. Separate and apart from the outcome, though, I am supremely impressed by your efforts on your client’s behalf. Your comments in support of the requested sentence were perfect in tone and, having now reviewed the extensive sentencing memorandum you filed, your work in that regard was exemplary as well. Your client was certainly fortunate to have you as his attorney.” (Local federal court attorney present at a sentencing)

“I can’t thank you enough, not only for all of the tireless work that you and your staff put into my case, but for telling me what I needed to hear, at a time when I absolutely had to hear it. I consider myself blessed for everything turning out the way it did, especially since I blindly picked you out of a phone book! You helped me, my family and friends in many more ways than the money ever could.” (Child pornography client)

“I think you will find that in any circles where Kathy’s name is raised, people will always respond positively and identify her as an extremely hardworking, knowledgeable and ethical lawyer who is timely and effective with any endeavor she takes on. These circles would include colleagues, friends, prosecutors, judges, professors and others who have crossed paths with Kathy. They would also include the many lawyers like me who have referred numerous cases to Kathy, invariably with positive feedback from the clients regarding her knowledge of their case, empathy, professionalism and fair-mindedness in addressing their concerns.” (Fellow attorney)

“Thank you for giving [our son] back to us. Wonderful work!” (Family of client accused of armed robbery after charges were dismissed)

“Yes, His perfect time and perfect place, you were a part of this plan. I almost didn’t hire you, but I took a step of faith trusting Him and look what happened? Praise God. Our Lord put you in your vocation for a reason, continue to help those He brings your way. May He bless you in ALL you do!” (Client who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault in a northwestern Wisconsin county. He was released from prison after attorneys got his conviction reversed.)

“I really cannot thank you enough for your past help. You really know your stuff. It is actually funny when I think about my other past attorney’s knowledge and then when I talk with you. It’s like night and day. You’re like a walking book of knowledge with a purpose-driven life. Thanks.” (Brown County client of attorney Buting)

“A year later and I still believe your defense is the single best example of lawyering I have ever seen.” (Television reporter commenting on attorney Buting’s defense of Steven Avery)

“You have a certain brilliance that makes me sure that when you talk, it is good information and I am in good hands. You tell it to me like it is even when the things you say are not always the things that I would like to hear. You keep it REAL!!!” (Brown County client)

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I feel like this was one of the biggest blessings that happened in my life. I put this along with my children being born healthy and when I survived that horrific shooting. I appreciate everything you have done for me. I couldn’t ask for better lawyers. I want to say thank you to everybody at your firm. I owe you more than the fee you so rightfully deserve. … You gave me back hope. Thank you, man! Out of my 36 years … I have never seen such kindness before. I don’t know what I did to deserve this; I’m very thankful nonetheless. Thank you for giving me hope again. Thank you for your generosity. There are still some really good people around.” (Federal criminal appeal client)

“There is no other attorney I’ve ever even heard of I’d rather have as chief counsel and leader of my defense/appeals than Jerome Buting. You’re the best. Period.” (Dane County client)

“Your advice and counsel were greatly appreciated. We appreciate you taking the time on your Sunday and evenings to help us. We are SO happy about the results! Thanks again.” (Waukesha County client)

“Thank you again … for everything. Five and one-half years of commitment, so many ups and downs and an outcome like that. You did a GREAT job.” (Waukesha County felony drug offense client)