Two recent decisions of CAAF condone unlawful or bad practices when OSI, CID, NCIS, and CGIS search cellphones; United States v. Shields and United States v. Lattin. As a result, the MCIOs are unlikely to change their unlawful or bad practices. More than sloppy police work gets two passes because the military appellate courts think suppression of evidence won’t change that behavior–and the accused is a bad person. Military defense lawyers need to be fully aware of the issues whenever evidence from an accused’s cellphone comes up in evidence.
The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches of our property, including cell phones. In Riley, the Supreme Court properly required a search warrant for (CID, OSI, CGIS, and NCIS) intrusions into seized cellphones. The court has acknowledged that people have a privacy right against Government intrusion without a warrant based on probable cause. As we know, there is an awful lot of personal data that is kept on the cellphone, and that can be retrieved with forensic tools.
In Lattin, the issue was a fishing expedition through the Appellant’s cellphone. The trial transcript shows that the OSI agent believed she had the right to search everything in the cellphone because it had been seized after the execution of a commander’s search and seizure authorization. With that general warrant concept in her mind she scrolled through a lot of information on the Appellant’s phone that wasn’t related to the reason for the search in the beginning. The OSI agent did not believe there were any limits based on her training and experience. Both the AFCCA and CAAF have ruled that the search was unlawful but that it was excused because there would be no future deterrent effect to OSI committing further unlawful searches. The court partly relied on Mil. R. Evid. 311, which wrongly summarizes the law post-Herring that was reinforced in Davis.
Shortly after Lattin comes Shields, another cellphone search case. The case presents dueling experts where, as you would expect, the Government expert was arguably given more “credibility” than the defense expert. When DCFL or government computer forensic “experts,” tell you they used the best and most current methods, you should not always believe that. Shields is a case where the DCFL used bad methods that ended up creating a fishing expedition. The court seemed to agree that the method wasn’t the best, but–it was good enough for government work.
In each case, the investigators were looking for texts, images, or data for a specific date or short time period. Forensic experts–good ones–will tell you that using proper methods readily available in the Atom or Cellebrite applications can make it relatively easy to create a narrow or focused search for items within a specified time period. Then, once the data is extracted for that time period, additional search criteria can narrow the data to that which is relevant to the reasons for the search. This, of course, is a little more time-consuming than a general search which, in light of Shields and Lattin, they might get away with.
These are matters–the law of the Fourth Amendment and issues of particularity and scope and cellphone or computer forensics that your military defense counsel needs to know about.
A jokester might suggest that the MCIO theme song might be ‘Scrolling Down the River on a Sunny Afternoon.’
If you do have leisure time on the river, you might take Digital Rummaging with you to read along the way.
Attorney Cave of Cave & Freeburg, LLP, is co-counsel in a petition for certiorari to be filed in Lattin v. United States.
Give us a call if you want to talk about representation by Cave & Freeburg, LLP as your military defense counsel.