Groups Argue Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision Applies to Maine Case

August 30, 2018

PORTLAND, Maine — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Maine, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL), today submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in a key case regarding the warrantless tracking of cell phones by police. 

The case is one of the first where an appellate court will have an opportunity to apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Carpenter v. United States. In that case, which the ACLU successfully argued last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the government needs a warrant to access a person’s cellphone location history. 

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court requested briefing that would explain the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on warrantless real-time tracking of a person’s cellphone. 

“The Supreme Court’s decision rightly recognized the need to protect the highly sensitive location data from our cell phones, and provided a path forward for safeguarding this information in future cases,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who successfully argued the Carpenter case at the U.S. Supreme Court. “The lesson of that ruling is that before police can turn a person’s cell phone into a government tracking device, they must get a search warrant from a judge.”

In the Maine case, State of Maine v. O’Donnell, Rangeley police issued emergency requests to Verizon to track the real-time location of cell phones belonging to suspects in a robbery case. Police did not obtain a search warrant or other judicial authorization before submitting the requests. The defendant, Kevin O’Donnell, filed a motion to suppress the location evidence, arguing that the warrantless tracking of his cell phone violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment, the Maine Constitution, and state and federal statutes. 

“For the 95 percent of Americans who own cell phones, this case has personal significance,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine. “Both the Maine legislature and the U.S. Supreme Court have said that the government is not allowed to track us using our cell phones unless they first get a warrant. We hope the Maine Supreme Court will agree. ”

In their filing, the ACLU, ACLU of Maine, EFF, and MACDL point to the recent Carpenter decision to urge the court to find that the warrantless real-time tracking of O’Donnell’s phone constituted an unconstitutional warrantless search, and to suppress that evidence as well as any evidence derived from it. 

The ACLU brief can be found here: https://www.aclumaine.org/sites/default/files/odonnell_amicus_brief_aclu....

Additional information on Carpenter v. United States can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/carpenter-v-united-states.

Stay Informed