This article originally appears at the following website: app.com
Can you imagine the police bursting into your home as you are in the midst of private discussions with your closest confidantes?
Maybe you’re sharing juicy gossip about a neighbor. Maybe you’re revealing intimate details about your sex life. Maybe you’re plotting a murder.
But even if you are merely sharing recipes for apple pie, the police have no right to be there unless they have a warrant – a piece of paper signed by a judge who was first convinced by a police officer that there is probable cause to believe you are committing a crime.
That’s because the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.’’
The world has changed drastically since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, and among the radical transformations are the ways by which people communicate with one another.
Now, one of the most prevalent ways people communicate is by cellular telephone.
Kevin H. Marino, an attorney representing the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, has argued that the smartphone of today is akin to the parlor of yesteryear, where the conversation would have taken place if you had something you needed to discuss with someone a couple hundred years ago.
“That’s a mighty fortress,’’ Marino has said of the parlor of a person’s home.
Following from that theory, Marino and other attorneys, including Dean I. Schneider of Red Bank, argue that records from a person’s cell phone should also be free from warrantless intrusion.
But, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office says gaining access to the cell phone records of the targets of criminal investigations will help keep New Jerseyans safer by speeding up their probes and possibly taking criminals off the streets sooner.
However, New Jersey’s Constitution also protects citizens from unreasonable searches. And, the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1982 said that included warrantless searches of telephone records.
But since then, the state Supreme Court has granted law enforcement access to banking records, credit-card statements, Internet provider information and other types of third-party billing records without warrants, the attorney general’s office argues. So, now is the time for the state’s highest court to overrule itself and give police quicker access to cellular telephone records, it says.
To that end, the attorney general’s office picked the case of Asbury Park resident Gary Lunsford to test the high court’s 1982 ruling about telephone records.
Lunsford, 25, was arrested in May of 2014 and charged with distributing cocaine. Authorities have tried to get Lunsford’s cell phone records by way of a subpoena, which doesn’t require them to get a judge to sign off. But Schneider, who is Lunsford’s defense attorney, has fought them on privacy grounds, saying someone’s cell phone records provide a window into their personal life that can’t be opened without a judge’s approval.
Last year, Superior Court Judge John T. Mullaney, now retired, ruled in Monmouth County Superior Court that Verizon Wireless didn’t have to turn over Lunsford’s records to police without a warrant.
READ ABOUT THE DECISION HERE: Judge decides
The attorney general’s office appealed Mullaney’s ruling to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the issue in February.
Lunsford’s case is again on the docket Monday, when the Supreme Court is due to issue its ruling in a case that has privacy implications not only for Lunsford, but for everyday citizens.
Will Verizon Wireless have to turn over Lunsford’s phone records to police? Turn to App.com later on Monday and to Tuesday’s Asbury Park Press to find out.
Kathleen Hopkins: 732-643-4202: Khopkins@app.com