Minnesota District Court finds search warrants for cell tower dumps were proper.

This case evolved out of an investigation of a series of armed robberies. The Defendant was indicted for Interference with Commerce by Robbery and one count of Attempted Interference with Commerce by Robbery. Law enforcement asked for a search warrant for cellular tower data for the towers in the areas of the various robberies (aka a cell tower dump).

Finding a cell phone number in common for most of the robberies, law enforcement then sought a warrant for the use of an active GPS “ping” geolocation data for the cellphone and the use of a pen register to monitor the user’s movements. This led to the Defendant’s arrest at the scene of another alleged attempted (thwarted) robbery.

The Motion to Suppress primarily involved a challenge to the cell tower dumps, arguing that they were exploratory searches, lacking definiteness as well as probable cause. The Government argued first that the Defendant has no standing because he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy to this cellular tower data.

The Court decided not to touch the standing issue since the Court believes that the warrants were supported by probable cause, and alternatively, the good faith exception applies. The Court also believes the warrants were sufficiently particular because the Court must consider the “circumstances or the nature of the activity” under investigation. Given the modus operandi of the requests and the limits of the requests temporally and geographically to match the robbery places and times, the warrants were proper.

The case is United States v. James, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 210433 (D. Minn.) November 26, 2018.

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