How The U.S. Supreme Court Ruling On Cell Phone Searches May Apply To Your Clients

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Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that prohibits law enforcement from searching a suspect’s cell phone without a warrant unless a person’s safety or life is in danger. This ruling is likely to benefit defendants who have pending cases where cell phone data has been obtained in violation of the court’s recent ruling. A motion to suppress this evidence should be considered if applicable.

Whether or not the ruling may help clients who were convicted based on this evidence is unclear and requires further analysis. Below is an excerpt from D.C. Kennedy’s Article that was featured in the November, 2005 issue of S.C. Lawyer. Hopefully it will provide a jumping off point for any lawyer interested in what to look for in these particular situations.

“New rules of criminal procedure apply retroactively only where they place ‘certain kinds of primary, private individual conduct beyond the power of the criminal law-making authority to proscribe’ or where the new rule is ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’ Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 311 (1989) (internal quotations omitted) (plurality opinion) (adopted by majority in Beard v. Banks, 124 S. Ct. 2504, 2513-14 (2004)). The latter category is reserved for “watershed rules of criminal procedure.” Summerlin, 124 S. Ct. at 2523 (internal quotations omitted).

The U.S. Supreme Court recently explained that there are three steps in determining whether a rule of criminal procedure applies on collateral review. Beard, 124 S. Ct. at 2510. ‘First, the court must determine when the defendant’s conviction became final.’ Id. ‘Second, it must ascertain the ‘legal landscape as it then existed,’ … and ask whether the Constitution, as interpreted by the precedent then existing, compels the rule. … That is, the court must decide whether the rule is actually ‘new.’’ Id. (quoting Graham v. Collins, 506 U.S. 461, 468 (1993)). ‘Finally, if the rule is new, the court must consider whether it falls within either of the two exceptions to nonretroactivity.’ Beard, 124 S. Ct. at 2510.”

D.C. Kennedy, Crawford v. Washington A Retro Protection Guaranteeing the Right to Confrontation?, S.C. Law., November 2005, at 21, 22-23

I have also included a summary of the two exceptions to the bar on retroactive application as cited in the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Beard v. Banks:

Teague’s bar on retroactive application of new rules of constitutional criminal procedure has two exceptions. First, the bar does not apply to rules forbidding punishment “of certain primary conduct [or to] rules prohibiting a certain category of punishment for a class of defendants because of their status or offense.” Penry, supra, at 330, 109 S.Ct. 2934; see also O’Dell v. Netherland, 521 U.S. 151, 157, 117 S.Ct. 1969, 138 L.Ed.2d 351 (1997). There is no argument that this exception applies here. The second exception is for “ ‘watershed rules of criminal procedure implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.’ ” Ibid. (quoting Graham, 506 U.S., at 478, 113 S.Ct. 892).”

Beard v. Banks, 542 U.S. 406, 416-17, 124 S. Ct. 2504, 2513, 159 L. Ed. 2d 494 (2004).

By: Alex Stalvey

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