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Supreme Court hears case about cellphone location tracking

As smartphones have become nearly ubiquitous in Pennsylvania, law enforcement officers have used some of the technology behind the phones to track people and their movements. The Supreme Court of the United States recently heard arguments in a case involving the use of cell phone location data in order to pinpoint a defendant's location in relation to some robberies that had happened.

In the case, the man was accused of participating in a theft ring that targeted Radio Shack stores. The thieves would commit armed robberies and fill bags with new smartphones that they then sold to fences for thousands of dollars. The man was identified as the ringleader of the group, and he and his brother took their cases to trial instead of accepting plea offers.

At trial, the evidence that contributed the most to the man's conviction was location information that the police had secured from his cell phone provider without a warrant. The case before the Supreme Court examines whether or not law enforcement officers should be required to obtain warrants before they can use cellphone location data to track people.

Obtaining warrants requires that police establish probable cause that the suspects have engaged in criminal activity. Officers argue that the cell phone location data is no different than public movements of suspects and should not require warrants. The ACLU contends that modern smartphone technology can allow police to pinpoint people down to the office in which they are standing. Criminal defense lawyers may watch this case closely because of the potential impact it might have on the interpretation of unreasonable searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment. People who are facing criminal charges after having their movements tracked by law enforcement officers without warrants might want to consult with criminal defense attorneys about whether or not their rights might have been violated.

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