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6th Circuit Court Says Certain Cell Phone Records do not Require Search Warrants

Cell Phone Search

Case: United States v. Carpenter

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ( Published Opinion )

Judges: Kethledge and Guy; Concurrence – Stranch


Whether the government was required to obtain a search warrant to receive the defendants’ wireless carriers’ business records; U.S. Const. amend. IV; United States v. Jones; Katz v. United States; Ex parte Jackson; United States v. Warshak; Whether there was an “expectation of privacy”; Smith v. Maryland; United States v. Phibbs; United States v. Miller; Riley v. California; Stored Communications Act; United States v. Guerrero (5th Cir.); United States v. Abdi; 18 USC §§ 2703(d) & 2708; Defendant-Carpenter’s “venue” challenge; United States v. Kuehne; United States v. Rodriguez-Moreno; Carpenter’s evidentiary challenge to the denial of his use of a report to “refresh” a witness’s memory; Rush v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co.; Sentencing; Whether Carpenter’s 1,395-month sentence was “disproportionate” to his crimes; U.S. Const. amend. VIII; United States v. Odeneal; Solem v. Helm; Ewing v. California; United States v. Clark; Chapman v. United States; Defendant-Sanders’s sentencing challenges; 18 USC § 3553; USSG §§ 2B3.1(b)(2)(C) & (b)(4)(B); United States v. Randolph; United States v. Woods; United States v. Jeross; United States v. Kamper


[This appeal was from the ED-MI.] The government did not need a search warrant to collect business records from the defendants’ wireless carriers to show that each defendant used his cell phone near the area and time at which the robberies were committed because there was no “warrantless search” in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The jury convicted the defendants of violating the Hobbs Act and committing firearm crimes. The defendants argued that the government should have obtained a search warrant before getting the information about their cell phone use from the wireless carriers. However, the court agreed with the district court that no “search” had taken place. While “content . . . is protected under the Fourth Amendment, . . . routing information is not.”

The information sought through the wireless carriers’ records said “nothing about the content of any calls. Instead the records include routing information, which the wireless providers gathered in the ordinary course of business.” The “cell-site data—like mailing addresses, phone numbers, and IP addresses—are information that facilitate personal communications, rather than part of the content of those communications themselves.” The court drew the distinction between this case and Jones, a “GPS tracking” case, and concluded that the defendants had no expectation of privacy in the locational information. Thus, “the government’s collection of business records containing cell-site data was not a search under the Fourth Amendment.” Defendant-Sanders was not entitled to suppression of the evidence under the Stored Communications Act – “suppression of evidence is not among the remedies available” under the Act. The court rejected defendant-Carpenter’s venue challenge where his relevant aiding and abetting conduct “took place in the Eastern District of Michigan.”

The district court did not abuse its discretion by denying him the opportunity to “refresh” a witness’s memory by reviewing a prepared report because he did not show that the witness’s memory was “exhausted,” and “[w]hat Carpenter actually sought to do with the report was not refresh” the witness’s memory, but impeach testimony. Carpenter’s 1,395-month sentence was not “disproportionate to his crimes[,]” and the court concluded that the district court did not misapply the Sentencing Guidelines in sentencing Sanders to 170 months’ imprisonment.


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