Warrant Requirement to Obtain Cell Phone Records Challenged in New Jersey

Can the police obtain cell phone records without a warrant?

Many of us rely on our cell phone everyday to stay connected.  While we think that our use is private, there is a record of almost everything we do on our mobile devices, including calls and internet use.  If we are accused of a crime, these records can be obtained by the police and used against us.  A pending New Jersey case might play a role in lessening the requirements that must be met in order for law enforcement to obtain these records.

Currently in the state of New Jersey, law enforcement must obtain a warrant in order to request the telephone billing records of a suspect or defendant.  This means that the officers must seek a judge’s approval before obtaining records of this kind.  In a recent case involving a young Asbury Park man accused of cocaine distribution, the New Jersey Attorney General is attempting to eliminate the warrant requirement for telephone billing records.  The Attorney General’s office wants to replace the warrant requirement with a provision making a grand jury subpoena enough to request these records.

A warrant requires probable cause meaning that there must be reason to believe that a crime has been or is being committed.  In order to obtain a grand jury subpoena, the standard is much lower.  While this would make it easier for law enforcement officers to do their job, it is no doubt an infringement on the persons Constitutional privacy rights.  Also, unless the person is indicted, there would be no way to tell what information law enforcement received from these records.

The Attorney General’s office is relying on recent cases finding that a grand jury subpoena is enough to request other types of evidence.  But, up to this point, the warrant requirement for cell phone records has been affirmed.  It is also worth noting that new encryption efforts by some cell phone and internet companies might make this case irrelevant, as the providers would refuse to give up the information even when faced with a warrant.

If you have been accused of a crime involving cellular billing records, the Burlington County, New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Sitzler and Sitzler can help.  For a free consultation, call us at (609)267-1101 today.