Florida Appeals Court Rules That Defendant Does Not Have to Turn Over Cell Phone Passcode in Response to Warrant
In June, one Florida appeals court made a very important decision in siding with a criminal defendant who refused to turn over his cell phone passcode to the police; even though they had first obtained a warrant. This is an issue with courts around the country, which are unquestionably struggling to find common legal ground on; making this decision an important one when it comes to the constitutional rights of criminal defendants; especially since several other Florida appeals courts have gone in the opposite direction.
The Case & Decision
The ruling came out of the 1st District Court of Appeal in Alachua County in connection with a robbery case, where the defendant’s phone was seized from his car. The police asked the judge to order the defendant to turn over the password to his phone in order to obtain what the court ultimately labeled “broad categories of encrypted information.” This included call history, texts, pictures, phone app information, and other information from the phone. While the circuit court ordered the defendant to provide the password, the appeals court reversed this decision, citing the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. In doing so, the court agreed with the previous decision out of the 4th District Court of Appeal regarding the state having to provide, with “reasonable particularity,” what exactly it seeks to access in these circumstances; otherwise, trying to obtain everything – images, data, call history, texts, etc. from a defendant’s phone – amounts to a “mere fishing expedition.” In other words, a generalized request for everything on the phone represents a “net cast far too broadly” and is based on the assumption that criminal enterprises communicate using cell phones and other electronic devices that always leave a digital trail. This simply fails to meet the minimum threshold of the reasonable particularly standard.
Previous Precedent & Why This Is Covered Under the 5th Amendment
This decision is an important one, as not only are courts around the country divided on this issue, but also courts within Florida. Specifically, the decision contradicts the 2016 ruling out of the Second District Court of Appeals, which covers Southwest Florida.
Still, there is also some strong precedent on the side of criminal defendants: Last year, the Florida Court of Appeal sided with a juvenile defendant in finding that compelled passcode disclosure amounts to forcing a criminal defendant to disclose “the contents of their own mind,” which makes the 5th Amendment violation against self-incrimination relevant.
Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorney with Questions
Our experienced West Palm Beach criminal attorney, as a former prosecutor, has the familiarity and experience needed to provide you with the very best in defense representation. Contact our aggressive advocate at the office of William Wallshein, P.A. to find out how we can help ensure that your rights are protected.