Lawrence Elmen Wins Dismissal in Federal Cellular Phone Search Case

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Lawrence ElmenFollowing a three day evidentiary hearing, Senior District Court Judge Thomas J. McAvoy ordered the suppression of evidence seized from two cellular phones by Border Patrol agents.  The unlawful seizure of phone data by Border Patrol agents occurred on December 10, 2012 in Champlain, New York, near the Canadian Border.

Two women from Miami, Florida were charged with alien smuggling by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York and awaiting a jury trial.  During the three day hearing, Border Patrol agents testified that smart phones seized from each woman were searched manually and by computer.  At no time did Border Patrol Agents obtain search warrants.  The computer search seized all electronic data stored on each cellular phone.  Border Patrol agents also admitted to searching cell phones without search warrants regularly and storing seized phone data for ongoing and future investigations.

The legal question before the District Court was whether the search of smart phones violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which bans unreasonable searches.  The Court held that the smart phone was the same as a computer and required a search warrant before being searched.  The same issue is now pending before the Supreme Court of the United States and scheduled for decision in the near future.

Following the Court’s decision, the U.S. Attorney’s Office requested the dismissal of the criminal charges against both women.  On February 18, 2014, the Court dismissed all charges against the two women under docket number 8:13-CR-00009.

“This decision speaks for itself.  It was a tremendous result for our client,” said Lawrence Elmen, a partner at FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth, P.C.  “People store their most private, personal information on these smart phones.  I am confident that the Supreme Court will reach the same legal conclusion as the District Court did in this case.”

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