Evidence found on servicemember’s cell phone is not to be used against him due to an unlawful search under the 4th Amendment.
Cell phones contain a huge amount of data. Think about what you have on your own cell phone, including but not limited to, pictures, texts, telephone logs, e-mails, links to your bank accounts, etc. Is this information protected from an illegal search under the 4th amendment? Yes. The law is clear that we all have an expectation of privacy to the data contained in our cell phones. Therefore, in order to conduct a search of a cell phone, authorities must obtain a valid search warrant. On February 20, 2014, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) in United States v. Wicks, upheld a military judge’s ruling at a court-martial that extensive warrantless searches conducted by a police detective, sheriff’s office and a computer forensic company of Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Wick’s cell phone were unlawful. In turn, the military judge’s ruling that the evidence found on the cell phone in these illegal searches should be suppressed at the court-martial was also upheld by CAAF. Originally, the cell phone was stolen from TSgt Wicks by his former girlfriend, TSgt Roberts. TSgt Roberts then looked through the cell phone, found evidence that TSgt Wicks may have had improper relationships with several recruits and then passed the cell phone on to a police detective. The government therefore argued at the court-martial that the original search was a private search by TSgt Roberts which did not require a warrant. The military judge at the court-martial ruled that while the original search by TSgt Roberts was private, the follow on searches by the government were more expansive than the original private search and therefore these searches required warrants. The government appealed this ruling to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) and that Court ruled that the military judge erred in suppressing the evidence found on the cell phone. TSgt Wicks appealed this ruling and was successful at CAAF. CAAF agreed with the military judge’s original ruling at the court-martial that because the searches conducted by the government without warrants went beyond the private search conducted by TSgt Roberts, they were illegal searches. Therefore, CAAF ruled that the evidence found on the cell phone could not be used against TSgt Wicks. When facing what may be an illegal search of your private property, you need an advocate by your side that understands your rights and understands the position of the appellate courts. I know what your rights are and I am always apprised of the most current appellate rulings. I have the experience you need. To speak to an experienced court-martial and military defense attorney, call Bill Cassara at 706-860-5769 for a free consultation.