Accused Pimp Must Unlock Cellphone, Top Massachusetts Court Says

BOSTON (CN) – A man accused of pimping out the woman he met through online dating can be forced to enter a password that will decrypt his cellphone, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled Wednesday.

Rejecting claims by Dennis Jones that the order to decrypt his phone would violate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, the Supreme Judicial Court emphasized that the government must prove only that a defendant knows his own passcode in cases like this where the contents of the phone are already known.

“In these circumstances, because the facts implicitly disclosed through the act of production are already known to the commonwealth, they are considered a ‘foregone conclusion’ and do not force a defendant to incriminate himself or herself,” Associate Justice Scott Kafker wrote for the unanimous court in a 36-page opinion.

Associate Justice Barbara Lenk noted in a 9-page concurrence that a defendant could incriminate himself in the sense that being able to enter the passcode to a locked phone carries the implication that the defendant is the owner of the phone and is responsible for its contents.

To lawfully compel a defendant to provide his passcode, something that Link added was satisfied in Jones’ case, the court must already be able to show that those fact have been established.

“Unless the government demonstrates that such information already is a foregone conclusion, the Fifth Amendment protection bars it from compelling an accused to provide it,” Lenk wrote.

Although Lenk concurred with the original opinion, she cautioned that it reflects a potentially harmful reduction in constitutional protections in the modern era.

“The court’s decision today sounds the death knell for a constitutional protection against compelled self incrimination in the digital age,” Lenk wrote. “After today’s decision, before the government may order an individual to provide it with unencrypted access to a trove of potential incriminating and highly personal data on an electronic device, all that the government must demonstrate is that the accused knows the device’s passcode.”

Jones was arrested on sex-trafficking charges following a woman’s report in December 2016 that he stole her purse at a hotel in Woburn. Sara, as the victim is identified in the opinion, said Jones forced her into prostitution after they met online and began dating. After Sara provide police with numerous incriminating text messages, police arrested Jones and seized an LG phone that he had been using to communicate with Sara. The police obtained a search warrant for his phone, but were unable to execute the warrant because the phone was encrypted and locked with a passcode.

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