Category Archives: Technology

Extraction of Smartphone Data by U.S. Law Enforcement

Mass Extraction | Upturn

A new report from upturn.org reveals that thousands of smartphones are searched by police every day across the US. Unfortunately, most searches are done without a warrant and in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures.

THE PROBLEM

Law enforcement agencies across the country search thousands of cellphones, typically incident to arrest. To search phones, law enforcement agencies use mobile device forensic tools (MDFTs). This powerful technology allows police to extract a full copy of data from a cellphone. This data includes all emails, texts, photos, location, app data, and more. The report documents more than 2,000 agencies that have purchased these tools, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“We found that state and local law enforcement agencies have performed hundreds of thousands of cellphone extractions since 2015, often without a warrant. To our knowledge, this is the first time that such records have been widely disclosed.” ~Upturn.org

According to the report, every American is at risk of having their phone forensically searched by law enforcement. Police use these tools to investigate assault, prostitution, vandalism, theft, drug-related offenses, etc. Given how routine these searches are today, it’s more than likely that these technologies disparately affect and are used against communities of color.

The emergence of these tools represents a dangerous expansion in law enforcement’s investigatory powers. In 2011, only 35% of Americans owned a smartphone. Today, it’s at least 81% of Americans. Moreover, many Americans — especially people of color and people with lower incomes — rely solely on their cellphones to connect to the internet. For law enforcement, mobile phones remain the most frequently used and most important digital source for investigation.

THE SOLUTIONS

Upurn.org believes that MDFTs are simply too powerful in the hands of law enforcement and should not be used. But recognizing that MDFTs are already in widespread use across the country, they offer a set of preliminary recommendations that, in the short-term, help reduce the use of MDFTs. These include:

  • banning the use of consent searches of mobile devices,
  • abolishing the plain view exception for digital searches,
  • requiring easy-to-understand audit logs,
  • enacting robust data deletion and sealing requirements, and
  • requiring clear public logging of law enforcement use.

Of course, these recommendations are only the first steps in a broader effort to minimize the scope of policing, and to confront and reckon with the role of police in the United States.

“This report seeks to not only better inform the public regarding law enforcement access to mobile phone data, but also to recenter the conversation on how law enforcement’s use of these tools entrenches police power and exacerbates racial inequities in policing. ” ~Upturn.org

Special thanks to authors Logan Koepke, Emma Weil, Urmila Janardan, Tinuola Dada and Harlan Yu for providing this highly informative and educational material.

Please review my Search & Seizure Legal Guide and contact my office if you are charged with a crime involving a smartphone search. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

New Car Tech May Stop DUI

Infrastructure law mandates new technology to prevent drunk driving — here's how it would work - MarketWatch

According to an article in US News, President Biden will sign legislation which has new cars monitor and stop intoxicated drivers. It’s an auto safety mandate aimed at stopping road fatalities included within the $1 trillion infrastructure package.

The technology would roll out in all new vehicles as early as 2026. The Transportation Department must assesses the best form of technology to install in vehicles and give automakers time to comply. For now, the legislation doesn’t specify the technology. It must merely “monitor the performance of a driver of a vehicle to accurately identify whether that driver is impaired.”

In all, about $17 billion is allotted to road safety programs, the biggest increase in such funding in decades.

“It’s monumental,” said Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Otte called the package the single most important legislation in the group’s history that marks the beginning of the end of drunk driving. “It will virtually eliminate the No. 1 killer on America’s roads,” she said.

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported an estimated 20,160 people died in traffic collisions in the first half of 2021, the highest first-half total since 2006. The agency has pointed to speeding, impaired driving and not wearing seatbelts during the coronavirus pandemic as factors behind the spike. Each year, around 10,000 people are killed due to alcohol-related crashes in the U.S., making up nearly 30% of all traffic fatalities, according to NHTSA.

THE NEW TECHNOLOGY

According to the article,  the most likely system to prevent drunken driving is infrared cameras that monitor driver behavior. That technology is already being installed by automakers such as General Motors, BMW and Nissan to track driver attentiveness while using partially automated driver-assist systems.

The cameras make sure a driver is watching the road, and they look for signs of drowsiness, loss of consciousness or impairment. If signs are spotted, the cars will warn the driver.  If the behavior persists, the car would turn on its hazard lights, slow down and pull over.

The voluminous bill also requires automakers to install rear-seat reminders to alert parents if a child is left inadvertently in the back seat, a mandate that could begin by 2025 after NHTSA completes its rulemaking on the issue. Since 1990, about 1,000 children have died from vehicular heatstroke after the highest total in a single year was 54 in 2018, according to Kidsandcars.org.

My opinion? This is an interesting development. is the technology reliable? There’s certainly good argument  over whether the technology could backfire, or prove ineffective in detecting impairment. Is your car searching you by passively monitoring your physical condition? Clearly, there’s Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure issues, involved in this too.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with DUI or any other crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Give Them An Inch . . .

GIVE AN INCH THEY'LL TAKE A MILE - GOSPELDADS

In State v. Boman, the WA Supreme Court held that a cell phone owner who gave consent for police to search text messages also gave police the authority to use his phone to set up a “ruse” drug bust sting. The subsequent police ruse using lawfully obtained information does not constitute a privacy invasion or trespass in violation of either our state constitution or the United States Constitution.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agent sent a series of text messages to Mr. Bowman. The DHS agent claimed to be someone named Mike Schabell, a person to whom Bowman had sold methamphetamine earlier that day, and indicated he wanted to buy more drugs. The ruse led to charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.

The trial court denied his motion to suppress the drugs and drug paraphernalia on his person and in his vehicle. At trial, Mr. Bowman was found guilty.

On Appeal, the WA Court of Appeals reversed Bowman’s conviction. The Court reasoned that the DHS Agent (1) disrupted Mr. Bowman’s private affairs and (2) was not acting under authority of law. With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Bowman’s conviction.

WA SUPREME COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

However, the WA Supreme Court found that police did not violate Mr. Bowman’s constitutional rights. The Court reasoned that under State v. Hinton, Bowman did indeed have a privacy interest in the text messages he sent to a third party’s device. That said, Schabell’s consent to search his phone gave police the necessary authority of law to view the text message conversation. Furthermore, police did not commit an unconstitutional trespass by sending text messages to Bowman’s cell phone as part of a ruse.

“Consistent with long-standing precedent, we hold that a cell phone owner’s voluntary consent to search text messages on their phone provides law enforcement with the authority of law necessary to justify intruding on an otherwise private affair. We also hold that a subsequent police ruse using lawfully obtained information does not constitute a privacy invasion or trespass in violation of either our state constitution or the United States Constitution.” ~WA Supreme Court

“That he misunderstood the identity of the person he was texting does not transform the
unsolicited incoming message into an unconstitutional trespass,” said the WA Supreme Court. “The risk of being betrayed by an informer or deceived as to the identity of one with whom one deals is probably inherent in the conditions of human society.”

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated Bowman’s conviction.

My opinion? This issue, and many other related issues, will likely require further consideration if such investigatory tactics continue to be used in Washington. Please review my Search and Seizure guide and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Ban Invasive Policing Technology

On November 2, 2021, Bellingham voters have an opportunity to vote on important initiatives affecting people’s liberty and freedom. Initiative No. 2021-02 concerns the use of facial recognition technology and predictive policing technology.

Face surveillance is the most dangerous of the many new technologies available to law enforcement. This measure would prohibit the City from the following:

  • Acquire or use facial recognition technology.
  • Prohibit the City from contracting with a third party to use facial recognition technology on its behalf.
  • Prohibit the use of predictive policing technology.
  • Prohibit the retention of unlawfully acquired data.
  • Prohibit the use of data, information, or evidence derived from the use of facial recognition technology or predictive policing technology in any legal proceeding.
  • Authorize private civil enforcement actions.

facial recognition system is a technology capable of matching a human face from a digital image or a video frame against a database of faces, typically employed to authenticate users through ID verification services, works by pinpointing and measuring facial features from a given image.

Facial recognition systems are employed throughout the world today by governments and private companies. Their effectiveness varies, and some systems have previously been scrapped because of their ineffectiveness. The use of facial recognition systems has also raised controversy, with claims that the systems violate citizens’ privacy, commonly make incorrect identifications, encourage gender norms and racial profiling, and do not protect important biometric data. These claims have led to the ban of facial recognition systems in several cities in the United States.

According to the ACLU, facial recognition systems are built on computer programs that analyze images of human faces for the purpose of identifying them. Unlike many other biometric systems, facial recognition can be used for general surveillance in combination with public video cameras, And it can be used in a passive way that doesn’t require the knowledge, consent, or participation of the subject.

The biggest danger is that this technology will be used for general, suspicionless surveillance systems. State motor vehicles agencies possess high-quality photographs of most citizens that are a natural source for face recognition programs and could easily be combined with public surveillance or other cameras in the construction of a comprehensive system of identification and tracking.

My opinion? Vote YES on Initiative 2021-02.

The technology itself can be racially biased. Groundbreaking research conducted by scholars Joy Buolamwini, Deb Raji, and Timnit Gebru snapped our collective attention to the fact that yes, algorithms can be racist. Buolamwini and Gebru’s 2018 research concluded that some facial analysis algorithms misclassified Black women nearly 35 percent of the time, while nearly always getting it right for white men. A subsequent study by Buolamwini and Raji at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirmed these problems persisted with Amazon’s software.

Please contact my office if you a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Language App Helps Police

LanguageLine Solutions(R) Launches Live Interpreting App

Tacoma police officers are now using a language translation tool to assist during emergency responses. Q13 Fox News reports that all officers have access to Language Line Solutions, a translator app on their phones.

In the past, officers used neighbors or even family members, like kids, to translate.

Lydia Zepeda, who is a member of the Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, worked with the Tacoma Police Department to introduce a better way for officers to help people in crisis.

“A lot of these people are experiencing domestic violence, they may have been sexually assaulted, or they may be some other victim of a crime and we certainly don’t want children to have to interpret for something like this.” ~Lydia Zepeda, Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

“Language Line Solutions allows the Tacoma Police Department to offer equitable services to all members of the community,” said officer Wendy Haddow with the Tacoma Police Department.

The app offers translators for 240 different languages with voice options, and for some languages, video chat options. When you open the app, you can scroll or use the search feature to find the language you are looking for.

“This app is really, really important,” said Zepeda. She says this new tool, gives people going through an emergency an easier way to be heard, and get the help they need. She says it also protects children from having to be involved. “It minimizes trauma.”

My opinion? The language line app is an excellent use of police resources which serves everyone. In an emergency, getting information quick is vital. However, challenges arise when responding officers and the caller do not speak the same language.

Language barriers are the source of much litigation. In State v. Prok, the WA Court of dismissed a DUI case against a Cambodian DUI defendant because the police officer failed to advise Mr. Prok of his right to counsel in language easily understood. By itself, State v. Prok assisted defense attorneys who argued Motions to Suppress evidence based on language barriers between police and defendants.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Supreme Court Sides with Police Officer who Improperly Searched License Plate Database

CA police officers keep jobs despite criminal convictions | The Sacramento Bee

In Van Buren v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court held that defendant Nathan Van Buren, a Georgia police officer Buren, did not violate the nation’s top computer crime law when he searched a license plate database for non-official purposes.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Former Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren used his patrol-car computer to access a law enforcement database to retrieve information about a particular license plate number in exchange for money. Van Buren agreed. The requestor – a third party who offered to pay him to search the database – was an undercover FBI informant. Van Buren used his own valid credentials to perform the search. However, his conduct clearly violated a department policy against obtaining database information for non-law-enforcement purposes.

Again, unbeknownst to Van Buren, his actions were part of a FBI sting operation. Van Buren was charged with a felony violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (CFAA), which subjects to criminal liability anyone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access.” 18 U. S. C. §1030(a)(2). A jury convicted Van Buren, and the lower federal District Court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Van Buren appealed his conviction to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the “exceeds authorized access” clause applies only to those who obtain information to which their computer access does not extend, not to those who misuse access that they otherwise have. Consistent with Eleventh Circuit precedent, the panel held that Van Buren had violated the CFAA.

Van Buren appealed again, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court.

COURT’S RATIONALE & CONCLUSIONS

In a 6-3 majority opinion penned by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Court held that Van Buren’s conduct did not violate the CFAA when he searched a license plate database for non-official purposes.

Justice Barrett wrote that Van Buren’s conduct “plainly flouted” his department’s policy, which authorized him to obtain database information only for law enforcement purposes.
“The parties agree that Van Buren accessed a computer with authorization and obtained information in the computer,” wrote Justice Barrett.  “They dispute whether Van Buren was entitled so to obtain that information.”
Regarding that specific issue, Justice Barrett reasoned the provision of the law at issue does not cover those who have improper motives for obtaining information that is otherwise available to them.  And regarding the issue of whether Van Buren violated the CFAA  – the truly important legal issue of the case –  Justice Barrett wrote “he did not.”
“The relevant question, however, is not whether Van Buren exceeded his authorized access but whether he exceeded his authorized access as the CFAA defines that phrase. For reasons given elsewhere, he did not.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Barrett, Majority Opinion

“To top it all off,” she wrote, the government’s expansive interpretation of the law “would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity.” Simply checking personal email or reading the news on a work computer would be considered a crime, Barrett added.

“The Government’s interpretation of the “exceeds authorized access” clause would attach criminal penalties to a breathtaking amount of commonplace computer activity. For instance, employers commonly state that computers and electronic devices can be used only for business purposes. On the Government’s reading, an employee who sends a personal e-mail or reads the news using a work computer has violated the CFAA.” ~U.S. Supreme Court Justice Barrett, Majority Opinion

Finally, Justice Barrett reasoned that the Government’s prosecution would also inject arbitrariness into the assessment of criminal liability, because whether conduct like Van Buren’s violated the CFAA would depend on how an employer phrased the policy violated.

With that, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Van Buren’s criminal conviction.

THE DISSENT

In his dissent, Justice Thomas compared Van Buren’s actions to a valet charged with parking a car, writing that the law should have covered the police officers’ actions. The valet, Thomas wrote, may “take possession of a person’s car to park it, but he cannot take it for a joyride,” Thomas wrote. He noted that Van Buren had permission to retrieve license plate information, but only for “law enforcement purposes.”
“When the police officer accessed the database in exchange for a bribe from an acquaintance, he exceeded authorized access under the law . . . Without valid law enforcement purposes, he was forbidden to use the computer to obtain that information.” ~ U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thomas, Dissenting Opinion.
In another example, Thomas said that an employee may be entitled to pull the alarm in the event of a fire, “but he is not entitled to pull it for some other purpose, such as to delay a meeting for which he is unprepared.”
Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

 

Privacy & Text Messages

Cop Cams New To Most But Old School For Modesto PD - capradio.org

Privacy & Text Messages. In State v. Bowman, the WA Court of Appeals held that a police officer violates a defendant’s constitutional rights by sending a text message to the defendant from an unfamiliar phone number while impersonating a known contact of the defendant.

BACKGROUND FACTS

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agent sent a series of text messages to Mr. Bowman. The DHS agent claimed to be someone named Mike Schabell, a person to whom Bowman had sold methamphetamine earlier that day, and indicated he wanted to buy more drugs. The ruse led to charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.

The trial court denied his motion to suppress the drugs and drug paraphernalia on his person and in his vehicle. At trial, Mr. Bowman was found guilty.

On appeal, Bowman argues the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence that flowed from his text message conversation with the DHS Agent. Specifically, he argues that DHS Agent’s impersonating a known contact of his through text messages violated his right to privacy under the Washington Constitution.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Court of Appeals reasoned that under article I, section 7 of the Washington Constitution, no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.

“Interpretation of this article requires a two part analysis,” said the Court. “First, we must determine whether the action complained of constitutes a disturbance of private affairs,” said the Court. “If we determine that a valid private affair has been disturbed, we then must determine whether the intrusion is justified by authority of law.”

The DHS Agent’s Actions Disrupted Mr. Bowman’s Private Affairs.

The Court of Appeals began by defining “Private affairs” as those privacy interests which citizens of this state have held, and should be entitled to hold, safe from government trespass without a warrant.

Based on that, the Court reasoned Mr. Bowman did not talk with someone he thought was a stranger. Rather, he conversed with a person who represented himself as someone that Bowman knew. Therefore, reasoned the court, Bowman had a reasonable expectation of privacy for that conversation. The DHS agent invaded that right of privacy.

The DHS Agent Was Not Acting Under Authority of Law.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that although Mr. Schabell consented to the search of his phone, there was no proof that he consented to being impersonated.

“Therefore, Dkane was not acting under authority of law, and violated Bowman’s right of privacy,” said the Court. “The trial court erred by failing to suppress the evidence obtained by that violation of privacy.”

With that, the Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Bowman’s conviction and remanded for a new trial, with instructions to suppress evidence obtained in violation of Bowman’s right to privacy.

My opinion? Good decision.

Cloud Storage & Privacy

Best cloud backup of 2020: Top ways to get your data backed up online | TechRadar

Cloud Storage & Privacy. In State v. Harrier, the WA Court of Appeals held that a person holds no privacy interest in  images obtained by an internet cloud storage service provider who then gives the images to law enforcement.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Synchronoss Technologies, Inc. is an internet cloud storage provider that provides cloud based storage for Verizon Wireless customers. The defendant Mr. Harrier had a Verizon account and subscribed to Synchronoss Cloud storage.

Synchronoss ran a cursory search of all stored digital files and found six digital images with hash values matching those of known instances of child pornography. Synchronoss reported this information via CyberTip to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) who forwarded the information to local police for investigation.

The police opened and viewed the six image files and confirmed that the images were child pornography. Police then obtained search warrants based on the descriptions of the images and served them on Verizon and Synchronoss. The search warrant directed Synchronoss to provide “all information” held by Synchronoss associated with the suspect telephone number associated with the images.

Police received information from Verizon that confirmed that Harrier was the subscriber/account holder for the suspect telephone number. Synchronoss also gave police a thumb drive containing account data associated with the suspect telephone number.

Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for Harrier’s residence. They seized Harrier’s cell phone. The cell phone was determined to be the same phone associated with the Verizon account and the Synchronoss files that were the basis of the initial search warrant.

Law enforcement interviewed Harrier after advising him of his constitutional rights prior to asking questions. He made incriminating statements. Harrier was later charged with two counts of first degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct and three counts of second degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Prior to trial, Harrier filed a 3.6 motion to suppress the evidence against him, and the trial court denied the motion. The parties proceeded to a bench trial. Harrier was found guilty as charged. Harrier appealed on arguments that the police, by opening and viewing the images from NCMEC, exceeded the scope of Synchronoss’ lawful search of the images and thus, the opening and viewing of the images was unlawful, and the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

In short, the WA Court of Appeals held that Harrier had no privacy interest in the images obtained by Synchronoss and delivered to the police; therefore, the police’s viewing of the images was not a warrantless search.

The Court reasoned that the Fourth Amendment protects a person’s subjective and reasonable expectation of privacy. Also, the WA Constitution in article I, section 7 provides that no person shall be disturbed in his private affairs, or his home invaded, without authority of law.

However, the Court reasoned that if a private affair is not disturbed, then there is no Constitutional violation. Also, the Court rejected Harrier’s arguments the Private Search Doctrine prohibited the police from obtaining contraband:

“The Private Search Doctrine is based on the rationale that an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy is destroyed when the private actor conducts his search,” said the Court of Appeals. “Our Supreme Court held in Eisfeldt that the private search doctrine is inapplicable under our State Constitution.”

The court also recognized that when a private party hands evidence over to the police, there is no privacy interest in that evidence:

“We know from the hash values that the files Synchronoss found were child pornography and that this information, the images, and the CyberTip are reliable . . . Because a private party conducted the search and the images are contraband, Harrier did not have a privacy interest in them. Thus, the police’s opening and viewing the images from a private party was not unlawful. Accordingly, Harrier’s arguments fail.” ~WA Court of Appeals.

The Court concluded that the trial court did not err by denying Harrier’s motion to suppress and affirmed Harrier’s convictions.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member were arrested after police found incriminating evidence from a questionable search of cyber account information. And please review my Legal Guide on Search & Seizure. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first and best step towards justice.

Right to Confront Victim Witnesses At Trial

Image result for right to confront

In  United States v. Carter, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a victim’s testimony from her hospital bed in Minnesota via two-way video violated the defendant’s  Sixth Amendment right to confrontation.

BACKGROUND FACTS

Mr. Carter was convicted of forcing seven minor girls into prostitution and trafficking them across state lines. The crimes took place over a ten-year period from 2003 to 2013. For each of the seven victims, Carter was charged with one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1591 (sex trafficking of a minor or by force, fraud, or coercion), and one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) (transportation of a minor in interstate commerce to engage in prostitution), for a total of fourteen counts.

One week before Carter’s April 2016 trial, the Prosecution anticipated bringing the testimony of J.C., the victim for Counts 13 and 14. J.C., who was by then an adult living in Minnesota, was seven months pregnant with a due date in June. The government explained that J.C. had been hospitalized for complications with her pregnancy and that her doctor had instructed her not to travel from Minnesota to California.

Accordingly, the government sought to have her testify during trial from Minnesota via live two-way video conference.

Carter opposed on Confrontation Clause grounds. Nevertheless, the federal district court granted the government’s application to use two-way video, and the case proceeded to trial. On the second day of trial, Carter again objected to the two-way video procedure. Again, the federal district court denied Carter’s motion.

J.C. testified by two-way video at trial. She stated that she met Carter in 2013, when she was 16 years old. She was living in Minnesota at the time, and Carter bought her a bus ticket to Los Angeles under an alias because she was underage. When she arrived in Los Angeles, Carter picked her up and took her to a motel room. There, he photographed her in lingerie and used the photographs in an advertisement on Backpage, a website used to advertise sexual services. She then worked as a prostitute for Carter for approximately two weeks. She testified that Carter kept all of her earnings, dictated how much she should charge and what she should wear, and threatened to beat her if she did not comply.

Carter was ultimately convicted on all fourteen counts. He appealed.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a defendant’s right to physically confront an adverse witness cannot be compromised by permitting the witness to testify by video unless use of the remote video procedure is necessary and the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured.

The Court reasoned that the victim’s inability to travel to the trial location was due to a temporary pregnancy-related condition. Therefore, a continuance of the trial was a more appropriate solution. Furthermore, testimony from a remote location requires proof that the witness is not being coached or influenced during testimony, that the witness is not improperly referring to documents, that the witness has an adequate view of the courtroom, and that the jury has an adequate view of the witness.

Here, none of those proof conditions were met. Because alternatives were available for obtaining a victim-witness’s testimony that would have preserved the defendant’s right to physical confrontation, the use of a remote video was not necessary in this case, and violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

Consequently, the Court vacated the defendant’s convictions  on one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1591 (Sex Trafficking of a Minor) and remanded for re-sentencing on remaining counts as to which the panel affirmed the defendant’s convictions in a concurrently-filed memorandum disposition.

My opinion? Despite Mr. Carter’s terrible charges, allegations and fact pattern, the Ninth Circuit made the correct decision on his behalf. The Sixth Amendment’s right to face-to-face confrontation ensures the integrity of the fact-finding process and forms the core of the values furthered by the Confrontation Clause.

Although exceptions to the Confrontation Clause rightfully exist – for example, if the testifying victim is a child who would suffer significant emotional trauma from being in the same room as their offender – these exceptions are narrow. Remote two-way video cameras can be used and substituted for face-to face contact upon a case-specific finding that (1) the denial of physical confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy, and (2) the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Facebook Photos Admissible

Image result for facebook social media admissible evidence court

The 6th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals‘ recent court decision United States v. Farrad gives a very comprehensive analysis regarding the admissibility of Facebook records. In short, the  Court held that (1) photographs from a Facebook account were properly authenticated by evidence that the photos in question came from a Facebook account registered to the defendant and the photos appeared to show the defendant in his own apartment, and (2) The Facebook photographs were self-authenticating as a business record.

Washington’s evidence rules are either identical to, or extremely similar, to the federal rules discussed in the opinion.

BACKGROUND FACTS

After serving time in prison for a previous felony, Farrad was released from federal
custody in January 2013. Farrad came to the attention of local law enforcement sometime after June 10 of that same year, when various confidential informants and concerned citizens evidently reported observing Farrad to be in possession of one or more firearms while in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Some time later, a Officer Garrison of the Johnson City Police Department used an undercover account and sent Farrad a friend request on Facebook. After Farrad accepted the friend request, Garrison was able to see more of Farrad’s photos. One photo in particular caught his interest: a photo that showed what appeared to be three handguns sitting on a closed toilet lid in a bathroom. The photo was uploaded on October 7, 2013.

Garrison brought the photo to the attention of Johnson City police officer and FBI task
force officer Matthew Gryder, who applied on October 25, 2013, for a warrant to search Farrad’s Facebook’s records. A federal magistrate judge granted the warrant. The warrant allowed execution “on or before November 6, 2013,” and the return executed by federal law enforcement indicates that the warrant was “served electronically” on Facebook on November 1, 2013.

The resulting data yielded a series of additional photos that were central to this case: some show a person who looks like Farrad holding what appears to be a gun, while others show a closer-up version of a hand holding what appears to be a gun.

While none of the photos shows a calendar, date, or one-of-a-kind distinguishing feature, the person in the photos has relatively distinctive tattoos, and some of the photos show, as backdrop, the décor of the room in which they were taken. Facebook records revealed that the photos had been uploaded on October 11, 2013.

In September 2014, a federal grand jury charged Farrad with having, on or about October 11, 2013, knowingly possessed a firearm, namely, a Springfield, Model XD, .45 caliber, semiautomatic pistol.

On March 26, 2015, Farrad filed a pro se motion seeking an evidentiary hearing, dismissal of the indictment against him, and suppression of the Facebook photos on Fourth Amendment grounds. The magistrate judge assigned to Farrad’s case denied that motion on April 9, 2015, on the grounds that Farrad already had appointed counsel and the local rules prohibited a represented party from acting in his or her own behalf without an order of substitution. Farrad’s trial counsel did not renew Farrad’s motion.

The parties did, however, litigate the admission of the photos on evidentiary grounds.
The Government argued that the Facebook photos qualified as business records under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6) and that they were, as such, self-authenticating under Federal Rule of Evidence 902(11).

In support of its assertion, the Government introduced a certification by a Facebook-authorized records custodian, who attested that the records provided by Facebook—including “search results for basic subscriber information, IP logs, messages, photos, and other content and records for Farrad’s Facebook identity were made and kept by the automated systems of Facebook in the course of regularly conducted activity as a regular practice of Facebook and made at or near the time the information was transmitted by the Facebook user.

In addition to disputing admissibility under Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, and 406, Farrad’s trial counsel argued that the photos, despite the custodian’s affidavit having been “done correctly under the federal rules,” were “hearsay within hearsay” and did not “authenticate who took the pictures, when the pictures were taken, by whom, at what time. All that the custodian could attest to, trial counsel emphasized, was that at some point these pictures were uploaded to what was allegedly Farrad’s Facebook account, the custodian could not testify as to who took the photos, when they were taken, where they were taken.

On June 15, 2015, the district court concluded that it had found no indication of a lack of trustworthiness and that the photos qualified as business records under Rules 803(6) and 902(11). It also determined that the photos were relevant.

The jury found Farrad guilty. He appealed his case to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

ISSUES

Farrad raises seven arguments on appeal: (1) that there was insufficient evidence
introduced at trial to support his conviction; (2) that the Facebook photos should not have been admitted into evidence; (3) that Officers Hinkle and Garrison should not have been permitted to testify as experts; (4) that the district court should have granted Farrad’s motion for a new trial; (5) that Farrad did not in fact qualify as an armed career criminal under the ACCA; (6) that finding him to be an armed career criminal at sentencing violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights; and (7) that the district court should have excluded the Facebook photos on Fourth Amendment grounds.

In this blog post, we focus on the issue of whether the Facebook photos were admissible at trial.

COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

Admissibility of Photos

The Court reasoned that like other evidence, photographs must be authenticated prior to being admitted into evidence. To satisfy this requirement, under federal evidence rule (FRE) 901, the person seeking to admit the evidence (proponent) must produce evidence proving that the item is what the proponent claims it is. This authentication rule requires only that the court admit evidence if sufficient proof has been introduced so that a reasonable juror could find in favor of authenticity or identification.

The Court further reasoned that under FRE 902, some items – like, apparently Facebook posts – are self-authenticating. In other words, they require no extrinsic evidence of authenticity in order to be admitted. This category of self-authenticating evidence includes “certified domestic records of a regularly conducted activity”—that is, a business “record that meets the requirements of Rule 803(6)(A)–(C), so long as properly certified by a custodian or other qualified person  and so long as the evidence is subject to challenge by  the opposing party.

“The question, then, is the central one: the authentication of the photos,” said the Court. “They appeared to show Farrad, his tattoos, and (perhaps most probatively) distinctive features of Farrad’s apartment, as confirmed by police investigation . . . The district court was correct to admit them.”

Fourth Amendment Suppression

After addressing the admissibility issue, the Court went on to reject Farrad’s claim that admitting the Facebook photos violated the Fourth Amendment. The Court reasoned that while a search made by a private entity acting at the direction of law enforcement agents must comport with the Fourth Amendment, Farrad has pointed to no authority or rationale to suggest that a date of execution similarly binds a third party’s certification of its records for evidentiary purposes. “This argument lacks merit,” said the Court.

“The bottom line in this case—that Farrad has been sentenced to serve 188 months in prison because the Government found Facebook photos of him with what appears to be a gun—may well raise a lay reader’s hackles. There are likewise aspects of Farrad’s trial and
conviction—the date issue, Officer Garrison’s testimony—that are at least debatably troubling from a legal perspective. Nevertheless, we are not empowered to grant relief based on arguments not made or where errors were harmless.”

With that, the Sixth Circuit affirmed Farrad’s conviction and sentencing.

My opinion? Today’s defense attorney must be proficient in the admissibility of social media evidence. And the answers are fairly straightforward. Although the general rule is that hearsay is not admissible, and that social media evidence is hearsay, some hearsay evidence is admissible under the business record exception. Clearly, anything and everything that social media outlets like Facebook produces – from profiles to posts – are business records, arguably.

This is a classic example telling us to watch what we post on Facebook and other social media. Information is private until its not.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.