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.