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Cellphone records may be used in Texas to pinpoint locations

Depending on the charges someone is facing in the state of Texas, it is possible that in the course of making its case, the prosecution will use cell phone records to establish the individual's location at the time a crime was committed. The technique, which is handled differently throughout the nation depending on the state someone is in, uses the information regarding which cellphone towers picked up a signal, to place users of the phones in certain locations. For instance, such records could place someone accused of a violent crime in a location near the victim, leading decision makers to potentially conclude that the individual in fact had something to do with the matter. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently decided how the matter would be handled in that jurisdiction.  

In short, the court's decision allows that technique to be used without the use of a warrant. More specifically it determined that using such records in a criminal case is not unconstitutional because they are not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the information is simply part of a business record. Other jurisdictions in the country have held differently, requiring that a warrant be obtained before such records could be utilized. The matter is one that the Supreme Court could decide t take up at some point in the future.

To address the issue, some states are moving to make laws regarding the matter. While it is unclear whether Texas will follow suit, in the meantime, it is likely that criminal defense attorneys who keep up with changes in the field, are strategizing about how best to represent clients in this situation.

Source: The New York Times, "Warrantless Cellphone Tracking Is Upheld," Somini Sengupta, July 30, 2013

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