Category Archives: Text Messages

Cell Phone Spying Is Unlawful

Image result for mobile spy software

In State v. Novick, The WA Court of Appeals Division II held the Defendant committed Computer Trespass in the First Degree when he installed “Mobile Spy” software on the victim’s cell phone and sent commands to activate the recording feature of the program in order to intentionally record the victim’s private communications.

David Novick and Lisa Maunu began dating in December 2013. Novick bought her a new mobile phone on March 11, 2014, and set it up for her. Unbeknownst to Maunu, Novick installed an application called Mobile Spy on Maunu’s new phone. The application allowed a person to log onto the Mobile Spy website and monitor the phone on which the application was installed.

From the Mobile Spy website, a user could access all the information stored on the monitored phone, including text messages, call logs, and e-mails. The versions of Mobile Spy software also permitted a user to send commands to the targetted phone from a “live control panel” on the website. One such command allowed a user to activate the phone’s microphone and recording features and record audio into a file that could then be downloaded from the website.

Eventually, Novick was caught after his girlfriend Maunu became suspicious. In short, Maunu became concerned because Novick expressed specific knowledge about Maunu’s health conditions, medications, doctors’ appointments, and private conversations.

With the assistance of Novick’s employer, it was discovered that Novick had downloaded over 500 audio files from Mobile Spy, searched for GPS (global positioning system) locations, and searched for particular telephone numbers.

The State charged Novick with eight counts of Computer Trespass in the First degree and eight counts of Recording Private Communications based on Novick’s use of Mobile Spy to record Maunu’s conversations. At trial, Novick was convicted on all charges.

Novick appealed on arguments that (1) the State failed to provide sufficient evidence that he intentionally recorded a private communication, and (2) entry of eight convictions of each crime violated his right against double jeopardy because the correct unit of prosecution covers the entire course of conduct.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals disagree with Novick and affirmed his convictions.

  1. THE PROSECUTION SHOWED SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF COMPUTER TRESPASS FIRST DEGREE.
First, the Court explained that Computer Trespass in the First Degree occurs when a person intentionally gains access without authorization to a computer system or electronic database of another and the access is made with the intent to commit another crime. The Court further reasoned that here, the underlying crime was Recording Private Communications. A person commits the crime of recording private communications when he intercepts or records private communications transmitted by any device designed to record and/or transmit said communications.
Second, the Court reasoned that a forensic review of Novick’s computer activity revealed that he intentionally logged into Mobile Spy’s webiste and sent commands from the website to Maunu’s phone. Also, Novick’s computer records showed that he visited the live control panel on Mobile Spy’s website, downloaded audio files collected from Maunu’s phone and intentionally recorded Maunu’s private communications.
Accordingly, the Court held that the State presented sufficient evidence that Novick committed the crime of Recording Private Communications, and with that, committed Computer Trespass First Degree.
2. NO EVIDENCE OF DOUBLE JEOPARDY.
Next, the Court rejected arguments that Novick’s multiple convictions for Computer Trespass and Recording Private Communications violated the prohibition against Double Jeopardy because the correct unit of prosecution for each crime covers the entire course of Novick’s conduct.
The Court began by saying the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no “person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Similarly, article I, section 9 of the Washington Constitution says, “No person shall . . . be twice put in jeopardy for the same offense.” In short, explained the Court, these double jeopardy provisions prohibit multiple convictions for the same offense.
Furthermore, when a defendant is convicted for violating one statute multiple times, the proper inquiry is, “What unit of prosecution has the Legislature intended as the punishable act under the specific criminal statute?” The Court explained that in order to determine whether there is a double jeopardy violation, the question becomes “what act or course of conduct has the Legislature defined as the punishable act?” Consequently, the scope of the criminal act as defined by the legislature is considered the unit of prosecution.
The Court explained that the first step is to analyze the statute in question. If the statute does not plainly define the unit of prosecution, we next examine the legislative history to discern legislative intent. Finally, a factual analysis is conducted to determine if, under the facts of the specific case, more than one unit of prosecution is present.
Ultimately, the Court was not persuaded by Novick’s “plain language of the statute” argument the if the legislature intended a single unit of prosecution based on a course of conduct, it could have said so plainly.
“What matters is not what the legislature did not say, but what it did say,” said the Court. “The plain language of the statutes support the conclusion that the units of prosecution . . . are each separate unauthorized access and each recording of a conversation without consent.” The Court further reasoned that while Novick’s actions were somewhat repetitious, they were not continuous:
“On at least eight separate and distinct times, Novick logged onto Mobile Spy’s website, accessed Maunu’s phone by issuing a command through the live control panel, and downloaded at least eight different recordings of conversations between Maunu and various other people. Each access was separated by time and reflected a separate intent to record a separate conversation.”
The Court concluded that the State proved that Novick intentionally recorded eight private communications. Additionally, Novick’s actions constituted multiple units of prosecution, and therefore, his multiple convictions did not violate double jeopardy principles. Thus, the Court affirmed Novick’s convictions.
My opinion? On the one hand, it’s shocking that citizens can be convicted of felonies by accessing mainstream computer software. Shouldn’t the software itself be outlawed instead? On the other hand, I see how parents can legally using the same software to track their minor children’s whereabouts, conversations and activities. That type of activity os not illegal.
This case presents a very good example of an atypical computer crime. We see that Computer Trespass First Degree is very similar to standard Burglary charges in that the State must prove the Defendant intends to commit a crime once they gain access to the victim’s computer system or electronic database. Recording Private Communications is a crime.  Therefore, if a defendant records private communications after gaining access, they can be found guilty of Computer Trespass in the First Degree. Simple.
Computer crime cases require experts and/or lay witnesses who are competent in discussing these matters. Speaking for the defense, it’s usually best to hire experts familiar with computer forensics to determine if/when the said access was unlawful and/or intentional. Again, the State must prove intent.

New Washington Driver’s-License Exam Tackles Pot & Cellphone Risks

A recent news article by reporter E.J. Smith III of the Seattle Times reports that today’s driver’s license exams require not only a more thorough understanding of longstanding traffic laws but also an understanding of the risks associated with smartphones and the legalization of pot.

“We wanted to add more information about impaired driving beyond the information about driving while intoxicated,” said Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield. “With all the growth of cellphone use … we wanted to make sure that type of information was highlighted in the driver’s guide and test.”

E.J. Smith III reports these driving issues are timely and should be addressed. For example, he quotes a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that teen drivers spend nearly a quarter of their driving time distracted. Additionally, one in six drivers involved in fatal crashes in Washington in 2014 had recently used marijuana, which is the most recent data available. Finally, according to the NSC preliminary estimates, 567 people died in motor-vehicle crashes in Washington last year, a 21 percent increase over 2014. Nationally, the increase was 8 percent.

“The old test didn’t have any questions on distractions,” said Nur Hassan, who has run MLK Simple Driving School in Seattle for three years. “Driving is very serious business, so people should not try to take it lightly or try to put in other distractions.”

My opinion? Kudos to the Department of Licensing for addressing issues of distracted driving and marijuana use. This is an excellent step in the right direction. Today’s teen driver’s need to know the risks of their driving behavior.

I practice a wide range of criminal defense, everything from low-level misdemeanors to Federal charges. I’m honored to represent them through difficult times. I’ve assisted clients who are minors charged with various forms of DUI (drugs as well as alcohol). Many didn’t know the slightest amount of alcohol or drugs in their system can lead to DUI charges. Others didn’t know the repercussions of their actions.

I’m a firm believer that education is the key to prevention. That said, if you’re interested in more information on these issues then please review my Drug DUI practice area and my Legal Guide titled Drug DUI’s in Washington: The Issues & Recent Case Law.

When Sexting Becomes Criminal

In State v. E.G., the WA Court of Appeals Division III held that a juvenile’s texting a picture of his erect penis to an adult female is punishable as a violation of Dealing in Depictions of a Minor Engaged in Sexually Explicit Activity in the Second Degree under RCW 9.68A.050(2)(a).

Defendant E.G. was 17-year-old juvenile with Asperger syndrome. He began sending harassing phone calls to T.R., a former employee of E.G.’s mother. T.R. at the time was a 22-year-old mother of an infant daughter. E.G. found T.R.’s telephone number by checking his mother’s business records. Beginning in mid-2012, a male using a restricted phone number would call T.R. at night and make sexual sounds or ask sexual questions. On the afternoon of June 2, 2013, T.R. received two text messages: one with a picture of an erect penis, and the other with explicit language.

T.R. reported the phone calls and text messages to the police, who tracked the telephone to E.G., then age 17. He was questioned by the police and told them that it was his penis in the photograph.Shortly before his 18th birthday, E.G. was charged in the juvenile division of the Spokane County Superior Court with one count of second degree dealing in depictions and one count of making harassing telephone calls.

Unfortunately, E.G. had prior criminal behavior of a similar nature. At the time of his arrest, E.G. was currently serving a Special Sex Offender Dispositional Alternative (SSODA) as the result of an earlier juvenile adjudication for communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

The defense moved to dismiss the charges under the argument that the statute could not be applied to a minor who was also the “victim” of the offense. The trial court denied the motion, concluded E.G. had committed the offense and required E.G. to register as a sex offender.

E.G. timely appealed. The Court of Appeals accepted an amicus brief jointly filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Juvenile Law Center. The only issue on appeal was whether the dealing in depictions statute properly could be applied to E.G.’s conduct.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeals upheld the juvenile court’s findings of guilt.

First, the Court of Appeals reasoned that E.G.’s conduct was not protected by the First Amendment because minors have no superior right to distribute sexually explicit materials involving minors than adults do.

Second, the Court rejected arguments that the criminal statute was vague because it does not provide notice that sending self-produced images of one’s own genitalia to others is included within the scope of the statute. The Court reasoned that while the statute’s reach may be broad, it is not vague.

Third, the Court rejected arguments that it was absurd for E.G. to be both victim and perpetrator. The Court’s response was perfunctory and direct:

“We disagree. First, nothing in the statute requires proof of any specific “victim” status as an element of the offense. Rather, child pornography per se victimizes children, which is the reason the legislature is seeking to eradicate it, whether or not the child willingly takes part. The legislature can rationally decide that it needs to protect children from themselves by eliminating all child pornography, including self-produced images that were not created for commercial reasons.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals rejected arguments that E.G.’s actions were an innocent sharing of sexual images between teenagers: “It appears, instead, to be the latest step in a campaign of anonymous harassment of T.R. for reasons best known to E.G., but even if it was an effort to entice or impress her, this was not an innocent activity.” With that, the Court of Appeals affirm the juvenile court’s adjudication and disposition of this case.

My opinion?

I understand it was a terrifying experience for the victim to undergo this terrible experience. Nevertheless, its difficult to justify where, under these facts,  a 17-year-old juvenile with Asperger syndrome should be found guilty of a heinous Class A sex offense felony and register as a sex offender for a number of years.

Although there are many possible symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, the main symptom is significant trouble with social situations. Other symptoms include the following:

  • Inability to pick up on social cues;
  • Lack of inborn social skills, such as being able to read others’ body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking;
  • Lack of empathy;
  • Inability to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech;

. . . and the list goes on.

Again, my condolences to the victim. Still, when Asperger’s syndrome is coupled with adolescence and immaturity, it’s difficult to imagine a juvenile defendant truly understanding the repercussions of his actions under these facts.

The “Textalyzer” Battles Distracted Driving & Works Like A Breathalyzer

 

A police officer uses a prototype of a Textalyzer to check for texting activity on a phone. A proposed law in New York would allow police to use the technology in much the same way they use a Breathalyzer.

A very interesting and well-written news article by reporter Matt Richtel of the New York Times discussed how lawmakers from New York want to treat distracted driving like drunken driving. The newest idea is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

The idea certainly carries momentum. Richtel wrote that over the last seven years, most states have banned texting by drivers, and public service campaigns have tried many tactics — “It can wait,” among them — to persuade people to ignore their phones when driving their cars.

Nevertheless, the problem appears to be getting worse. Americans confess in surveys that they are still texting while driving, as well as using Facebook and Snapchat and taking selfies. Richtel’s article emphasized that road fatalities, which had fallen for years, are now rising sharply, up roughly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, according to preliminary estimates. That is partly because people are driving more, but Mark Rosekind, the chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said distracted driving was “only increasing, unfortunately.”

In response, legislators and public health experts want to treat distracted driving like drunken driving. The most provocative idea is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

Richtel explained it would work like this: an officer arriving at the scene of a crash could ask for the phones of any drivers involved and use the Textalyzer to tap into the operating system to check for recent activity.

The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ear. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer.

Richtel described how the proposed legislation faces hurdles to becoming a law, including privacy concerns. But Félix W. Ortiz, a Democratic assemblyman who was a sponsor of the bipartisan Textalyzer bill, said it would not give the police access to the contents of any emails or texts. It would simply give them a way to catch multitasking drivers, he said.

If the legislation passed in New York, it could be adopted by other states in the same way that the hands-free rules did after New York adopted them.

 

Stingray “Spy” Devices

This undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows the StingRay II, manufactured by Harris Corporation, of Melbourne, Fla., a cellular site simulator used for surveillance purposes. (AP Photo/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

Intimidating, no?

This suitcase-sized device, called Hailstorm or Stingray, is a controversial cellular phone surveillance device manufactured by the Harris Corporation. It is designed to sweep up basic cellphone data from a neighborhood and identify unique subscriber numbers. That data is then transmitted to the police, allowing them to locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message. It’s the newest, most advanced technology in spyware which essentially allows police to observe, record and otherwise pinpoint your cell phone activity. And, of course, a growing number of police departments are purchasing these devices.

Stingrays cost as much as $400,000 and acts as a fake cell tower. The system, typically installed in a vehicle so it can be moved into any neighborhood, tricks all nearby phones into connecting to it and feeding data to police. In some states, the devices are available to any local police department via state surveillance units. The federal government funds most of the purchases, via anti-terror grants.

These devices are used to spy on people’s words, locations and associations. Stingrays can capture everything from metadata (who called whom, when, and sometimes from where) to the content of calls.

A news article from USA Today titled, Cellphone Data Spying: It’s Not Just the NSA describes how numerous police agencies across the country refuse to admit whether they’ve used Stingrays in surveillance. According to the article, most police agencies deny public records requests, arguing that criminals or terrorists could use the information to thwart important crime-fighting and surveillance techniques. Police maintain that cellphone data can help solve crimes, track fugitives or abducted children or even foil a terror attack.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has investigated the use of Stingrays and has also successfully identified 54 agencies in 21 states and the District of Columbia that own Stingrays. Many agencies continue to shroud their purchase and use of Stingrays in secrecy.

A growing number of courts and legal authorities are increasingly wary on whether Stingrays violate citizen’s rights against unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For example,  in FROM SMARTPHONES TO STINGRAYS: CAN THE FOURTH AMENDMENT KEEP UP WITH THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY? attorney Brittany Hampton wrote a Note in the University of Louisville Law Review which discussed the questionable use of the Stingray devices by police agencies.

In her article, Ms. Hampton argues that individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their movements when using their cellphones; therefore, the use of the Stingray constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. She also discusses the need for the United States Supreme Court to develop a clear warrant requirement for the monitoring of an individual using the Stingray device. Ultimately, Hampton advocates a warrant requirement for utilizing the Stingray devices for police tracking purposes because the warrantless use of the Stingray is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

My opinion? I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Hampton, the ACLU and other legal experts on this issues. Using Stingrays is an unlawful search. Quite frankly, the government should not have carte blanche secret access to people’s cell phone use and information. It’s overly intrusive and distasteful that the government can, without warning, essentially use people’s cell data as pretextual evidence to investigate our whereabouts, listen to our conversations and ultimately charge us with crimes.

Even worse – and speaking as a criminal defense attorney – it’s disturbing that police agencies can use the information obtained from Stingrays as probable cause to obtain search warrants of people’s homes and seize evidence therein. Moreover, if I move to suppress the evidence gained from the search warrant as the fruits of an unlawful search, local police agencies deny and circumvent my Motions to Compel Evidence and Public Disclosure Requests by simply having the feds conduct the Stingray search. This is bad.

Stay tuned . . .

 

Is Texting While Driving the New DUI?

 

Police Officer Posing As Construction Worker

Recently, Marietta Police dressed up as a construction workers at a busy intersection to catch distracted drivers who were text messaging while driving. The police go as far as busting drivers who are texting while stopped at red lights. It appears that going undercover is an effective way to bust drivers texting, tweeting or checking emails behind the wheel.

“What we’ve done here is we’re able to put officers in the roads so we’re able to get close enough almost inside their cars so we can look down and see exactly what they’re doing on their phones,” said Marietta police Officer Nick Serkedakis. “I really think this is the DUI of the future. Impairment is still a problem, but this distracted driving is killing as many people as drunk drivers.”

The tickets are $150 and one point on your license.

Can a program like this – one where WA police officers pose as construction workers at certain locations to observe texting drivers – be implemented in Washington State?

Probably not.

This program is very similar to DUI checkpoints, which were basically outlawed in 2008. For those who don’t know, sobriety checkpoints (also called DUI checkpoints) are locations where law enforcment officers are stationed to check drivers for signs of intoxication and impairment. Many jurisdictions utilize sobriety checkpoints as part of their larger drunk driving deterrance program. Due to legal issues surrounding their use, not all states conduct sobriety checkpoints. Some states have laws authorizing their use. Others forbid them or are silent on the issue.

According to the Government’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), Washington State is one of only 12 states which do not conduct DUI checkpoints. The story is interesting. In 2008, then-Governor Christine Gregoire wanted the state Legislature to authorize police to set up sobriety spot checks, a practice unseen in Washington since the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1988 under City of Seattle v. Messiani.

Some background is necessary. In Messiani, the Washington State Supreme Court decided that the Seattle Police Department’s sobriety checkpoint program was constitutional. In short, police officers set up roadblocks where all oncoming motorists were stopped. The police lacked warrants and any particular suspicion of criminal activity. The City of Seattle argued that the State’s interest in the legal operation of vehicles outweighs any privacy interest under Article I, Section 7 of the WA Constitution. Ultimately, the Washington State Supreme Court concluded that the City of Seattle’s position was unlawful, and held that sobriety checkpoints were unconstitutional.

At any rate, Governor Gregoire’s proposed DUI Checkpoint legislation failed. The ACLU even got involved. In the end, Legislators simply lacked the political will overturn the WA Supreme Court’s City of Seattle v. Messiani. 

Unlike Washington, however, Georgia has  actively legalized DUI checkpoints. They are conducted weekly and aggressively; and upheld under the State of Georgia’s Constitution.

Due to the differences, I can’t see WA police officers successfully pulling off an anti-text messaging campaign like the Georgia police officers can. This campaign is too similar to DUI checkpoints, which are illegal in Washington State.

In re Detention of H.N.: Screenshots of Text Messages Are Admissible Evidence

 

In In re Detention of H.N., Division I of the WA Court of Appeals decided that E-mailed screenshots of text messages that a medical expert used as part of her testimony were properly admitted as substantive evidence at trial.

H.N. is a college student who was less than 21 years of age at the time of the events leading to this case. She worked at part time jobs, and she had two roommates who worked with her at one of her jobs. After midnight on a night in May 2014, H.N.’s two roommates returned home to discover her unconscious on the floor and lying in a pool of her own vomit. Nearby there was an empty bottle of wine, an empty bottle of Nyquil, and a partially empty bottle of vodka. H.N. briefly awoke but then passed out again. One roommate called 911, and medics responded to the scene.

Afterward, H.N. was involuntarily detained for mental health treatment.

Thereafter, the State petitioned for up to 14 days of additional inpatient treatment, pursuant to the involuntary treatment act, RCW 71.05. For those who don’t know, detainees like H.N. may petition their local superior courts to be released from detention and observation. However, courts won’t release detainees if the detainee is likely to gravely injure themselves or someone else upon release.

On May 7, 2014, the court conducted a hearing on H.N.’s petition for release. At the hearing, the State presented the testimony of a psychologist who evaluated H.N. at the hospital. The psychologist testified as an expert. Part of her testimony was based on what purported to be e-mailed screenshots of text messages between H.N. and her boyfriend, “A.” These messages were exchanged on the night her roommates found her unconscious on the floor, lying in a pool of her vomit. The psychologist read several of these text messages into the record. Over H.N.’s objection on the basis of lack of foundation, the court admitted this evidence.

For those who don’t know, the “lack of foundation” objection most often applies to exhibits or pieces of evidence other than testimony that are brought into court without an explanation of where they came from or what they represent.  Foundation is usually laid by having a witness testify as to what the object is.

At any rate, and after the hearing, the trial court found that H.N. suffered from a mental disorder and presented a likelihood of serious harm to herself. The court entered an order committing H.N. for involuntary treatment for a period of 14 days. H.N. appealed the court’s decision to detain her.

The WA Court of Appeals took the case and decided the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted as substantive evidence e-mailed screenshots of text messages that the State’s expert witness used during her testimony.

The Court decided that the text message evidence was properly authenticated pursuant to ER 901(b). For those who don’t know ER 901(b) is an evidence rule which allows or disallows evidence depending on whether the evidence is properly “authenticated” (or not).

Here, the Court of Appeals gave many reasons why H.N.’s text messages were, in fact, authentic. She gave out-of-court acknowledgments that she sent the messages, the identifying information at the top of the text messages showed that she was the sender of the messages, her phone number matched the contact information in her medical chart, the messages consistently reference names of people in her life, the messages were consistent with certain events in H.N.’s life, and the timing of the text messages were consistent with her hospitalization on the night of the incident.

Consequently, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s detention of H.N. and concluded that text message evidence was sufficient to support the trial court’s finding that H.N. posed a likelihood of serious harm to herself.

My opinion? The Court’s logic appears sound. Although the text messages are inadmissible Hearsay under Evidence Rule  (ER) 801, hearsay is, in fact, admissible under certain circumstances.  Also, courts may consider evidence that might otherwise be objectionable under other rules of evidence. They can rely upon such information as lay opinions, hearsay, or the proffered evidence itself in making its determination. Such information must be reliable. Here, ER 901 allowed the State to authenticate the text message evidence. It was reliable. Therefore, it was admissible.