2nd Cir. OKs Access to Suspect’s Cellphone GPS

     (CN) – Vermont police did not violate the constitutional rights of a suspected murderer and drug dealer when they tracked his location through his cellphone without a warrant, the Second Circuit ruled.
     Undercover police officers in Brattleboro, Vt., had already made a series of drug purchases from suspected dealer Frank Caraballo when one of Caraballo’s known associates, Melissa Barratt, was found dead near the town limits of Brattleboro, according to court records.
     Barratt’s body was found in a wooded area on her knees, having been shot in the back of her head. Barratt had previously told police that she was afraid to cooperate with their investigation of Caraballo because he had access to guns and no qualms about murder.
     Police had already been building a case against Caraballo, who was often difficult to locate, because he frequently traveled between Vermont and Massachusetts and instead of keeping a permanent residence, slept in various hotels and motels along the way.
     With evidence that Caraballo was willing to use lethal force on associates he believed were talking to law enforcement agents, the police officers decided that they needed a quick method to track him down because any of their informants or undercover agents were hurt, court records show.
     With the assistance of Sprint, the police resorted to pinging two of his known cellphone numbers. In less than two hours, investigators were able to able to pinpoint the location of Caraballo’s phone in his car to a McDonald’s in Springfield, Vt.
     From there, local authorities monitored his car until it left the McDonald’s, which is when they pulled it over and arrested the man for drug charges based on their previous undercover deals. Though police lacked probable cause to arrest Caraballo for Barratt’s murder, he was considered a primary suspect at the time of his arrest.
     In district court, Caraballo attempted to suppress all evidence that was collected after his arrest, claiming that the warrantless cellphone ping was a violation of his Fourth Amendment Rights.
     The district court determined that Caraballo, “lacked a subjective expectation of privacy in the GPS location of his phone, because his contract with Sprint put him ‘on notice that disclosure of his real time location information to law enforcement [might] occur in the event of an ’emergency,'” according to a Second Circuit summary of the case.
     The Second Circuit on Monday affirmed that police were justified in tracking the cellphone, and did so in a manner that limited the invasion of privacy.
     “The officers reasonably believed that Caraballo posed an exigent threat to the undercover officers and confidential informants involved in his drug operation. This threat justified the pinging of Caraballo’s phone,” Judge Guido Calabresi wrote for a three-judge panel.

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