S.D. Georgia finds that Stored Communications Act order that is backed by probable cause is permissible substitute for a search warrant

In this prosecution for conspiracy based on possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, the defendant made a motion to suppress evidence from seized cell phones, cellphone account data, and cell site location information.

One cell phone was discovered in a search incident to the defendant’s arrest and another upon search of the vehicle. The Defendant’s argument was that the search of the phones themselves was invalid because law enforcement waited four months to ask for a search warrant to go through all of the data.

The Court, after a hearing, disposed of the search of the phone on his person because, as it turns out, the Defendant (admittedly) lacked standing. With respect to the second phone in the car, the Court found first that that phone was abandoned, and alternatively, that the delay was not fatal to the Government .

Regarding the cell-site location information, the District Court decided that the state court judge that issued the Stored Comminications Act authorization in question had a substantial basis for finding that they did have probable cause. The Court found any technical defect based on the fact that this was an SCA order rather than a search warrant was insufficient to require suppression.

Alternatively, the Court found that the good faith exception would apply citing a string of cases: United States v. Joyner, 899 F.3d 1199, 1204-05 (11th Cir. 2018); United States v. Goldstein, 914 F.3d 200, 204-05 (3d Cir. 2019); United States v. Chavez, 894 F.3d 593, 608 (4th Cir. 2018); United States v. Curtis, 901 F.3d 846, 847-49 (7th Cir. 2018); United States v. Chambers, 751 F. App’x 44, 2018 WL 4523607 at * 2-3 (2d Cir. Sept. 2018); United States v. Gibbs, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 204505, 2018 WL 6331341 at * 6-7 (N.D. Ga. Dec. 4, 2018); United States v. Scott, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179392, 2018 WL 5087237 at * 2 (S.D. Ga. Oct. 28, 2018).

The case is United States v. Williams, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 64324, 2019 WL 1612833, S.D. Georgia, (February 27, 2019.

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