Federal authorities must obtain a search warrant to gather the cellphone location records of criminal suspects under an unprecedented appeals court decision on a constitutional issue that often arises in investigations, reports the Miami Herald. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, reviewing a 2011 armed-robbery case in Miami, ruled that federal prosecutors must establish probable cause to obtain a warrant from a magistrate judge before accessing cellphone tower tracking data. They can no longer use a court order, based on a lower probability that a crime was committed, to gather that information from a suspect's cellphone service company.
The ruling will require U.S. attorneys in Florida, Georgia and Alabama to follow new search standards to satisfy Fourth Amendment requirements. The ruling will likely also not affect any convictions in state court, where cellphone location records are regularly used in investigations. In the South Miami-Dade murder of NFL player Sean Taylor, killed in a 2007 burglary to his home, detectives pinpointed the location of suspects by tracking their cellphones. The burglary mastermind was convicted this week of murder and sentenced to life in prison. In Miami-Dade, prosecutors also obtain orders, from state court judges, to gather historical cellphone data that pinpoints a suspect's physical location.