Passcodes and Self-Incrimination (Part 2)

by | Nov 6, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court Majority continued in relevant part: Lowery’s cellphone records largely corroborated his allegations. Following their second interview with Lowery, the State obtained Communication Data Warrants for cellphone numbers belonging to Andrews and Lowery. The warrants revealed 114 cellphone calls and text messages between Lowery and Andrews over a six-week period. Andrews was indicted for official misconduct, hindering, and obstruction.

According to the State, its Telephone Intelligence Unit was unable to search Andrews’s iPhones. A State detective contacted and conferred with the New York Police Department’s Technical Services unit, as well as a technology company, both of which concluded that the cellphones’ technology made them inaccessible to law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory advised that it likewise would be unable to access the phones’ contents. The State therefore moved to compel Andrews to disclose the passcodes to his two iPhones. Andrews opposed the motion, claiming that compelled disclosure of his passcodes violates the protections against self-incrimination afforded by New Jersey’s common law and statutes and the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The trial court rejected Andrews’s arguments but limited access to Andrews’s cellphones “to that which is contained within (1) the ‘Phone’ icon and application on Andrews’s two iPhones, and (2) the ‘Messages’ icon and/or text messaging applications used by Andrews during his communications with Lowery.”

Issues regarding the scope of a permissible search are very technical with regard to modern technology. These issues were historically limited to situations wherein the police would have exceeded the scope if the target of a search warrant was, for example, an assault rifle, and the police used the warrant to look inside of the target’s wallet. Since an assault rifle can not reasonably be expected to fit inside of a wallet, the search of the wallet would be outside of the scope of what is permitted by the warrant. These issues are much more complex when dealing with the data contained within a smartphone.