...well for now.
The New Jersey Attorney General office is trying to overturn a 32-year old precedent that forbids prosecutors from obtaining phone records without a warrant. The current holding on telephone records was set in 1982 due to the State of New Jersey v. Hunt case. Prosecutors are claiming that they are often unable to access records until the final stages during the trial, when it barely holds any significance anymore.
The State v. Hunt prohibits phone searches without warrants after Thomas Earls, a suspect of multiple robberies, was tracked through his cell phone three times without a warrant and arrested after the police was able to find his location at a motel. Earls argued that he had “reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of his cell phone,” so the police should have been issued a warrant before violating his privacy. The Supreme Court ruled in Earls’ favor, every resident must feel safe to know that their personal information is not being disclosed. Whenever a cell phone is being tracked, it violates the privacy of someone’s location.
The new debate is crucial for prosecutors especially during criminal cases. Many claim that getting access to a telephone record through a warrant takes too much time and by the time that they have a hold on these records, the prosecutors are able to stake a claim with other sufficient evidence.
On the other hand, defense lawyers have another opinion towards the proposal.
President of the New Jersey Chapter of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Joseph Rotella deems that the idea is “disappointing to see that the agency charged with protecting our citizens and enforcing the law would plan to intentionally violate a citizen’s rights just to make them a test case.” ACDL-NJ vice president, Christopher Adams, also adds that the reasoning behind to the test is spurious and that warrants for phone records can be obtained within hours.
Many are against the idea because officials would be able to gain access to other private functions on our phones nowadays, such as, pictures, calendar events, emails, social media, etc. Defense attorneys claim that the idea violates our privacy rights and it overturns the State v. Hunt case which set a precedent that does not allow phone records to be discovered without an issued warrant.
Seton Hall’s School of Law, Jenny Carroll labeled the idea an “aggressive move” because it works in the prosecutor’s favor and it can strongly hurt the defense. Caroll empathized with defense attorneys, saying that if they are not experienced well enough, they could be forced to take a plea bargain.
For now, the Attorney General’s Office are having tests, timing how long it takes one attorney, who would have to obtain a warrant before gaining phone records while another attorney would be able to have access to phone records.
There is still much debate and factors to be considered before actually having this legislation regulated. So you are safe from you and your phones for now!
Clausen, Casey. "New Jersey Supreme Court: Police Must Obtain Warrant Before Accessing Cell Phone Location Information." JOLT Digest. Ed. Mary Grinman. N.p., 30 July 2013. Web. 1 July 2014.
Gallagher, Mary P. "N.J. Wants Warrantless Access to Phone Customers' Billing Records." New Jersey Law Journal. N.p., 12 June 2014. Web. 01 July 2014.
Napoliello, Alex. "Attorney General's Office Seeks Help to Gain Warrantless Access to Phone Billing Records." NJ.com. N.p., 16 June 2014. Web. 01 July 2014.