Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona burglary case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress the cell-site location data (CSLD) that the prosecution used to tie the defendant to a co-defendant, who was alleged to have committed several burglaries. Ultimately, the court concluded that the CSLD was not seized in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights and affirmed her conviction.
According to the court’s opinion, police officers were investigating a string of burglaries. After receiving a tip that the co-defendant was going to commit another burglary, police officers obtained a warrant to search the co-defendant’s truck, home, and warehouse. When police stopped the co-defendant’s truck, the defendant was in the passenger seat. The defendant was in possession of several stolen pieces of jewelry.
In a single trial, the prosecution tried both defendants together. To tie the defendant to the burglaries, the prosecution obtained cellular site location data from the defendant’s cell phone. This data showed that the defendant was within a few miles of at least seven of the homes that were burglarized by the co-defendant. Neither the defendant nor her co-defendant moved to suppress the CSLD at trial. At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant was convicted on all counts. The defendant appealed the admission of the CSLD.
Initially, the court noted that because the defendant did not object to the introduction of the CSLD at trial through a motion to suppress, the court could only review the admission of the CSLD for fundamental error. A fundamental-error analysis requires the court first determine if an error occurred during the trial and then, taking into account the totality of the circumstances, determine if the error was fundamental. This is opposed to the de novo review that an appellate court typically uses to review legal issues on appeal.
In this case, the court determined that there was no error in admitting the CSLD. The court noted that the prosecution’s use of this evidence occurred well before the U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Carpenter v. U.S., in which the court held that the defendants have an expectation of privacy in CSLD and that the prosecution must establish probable cause to obtain and use CSLD. Thus, this court held that the prosecution’s use of CSLD, even if it would not have been prevented under today’s law, was permissible at the time of the trial. As a result, the court held that the defendant could not show that a fundamental error occurred at trial and her conviction was affirmed.
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