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New Jersey Supreme Court Decision: Hot Pursuit with Find My iPhone

Today the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued a decision, State of New Jersey in the Interest of J.A., A-38-16 077383, 2018 N.J. LEXIS 713 (N.J. June 6, 2018), ruling on the admissibility of evidence procured after the warrantless entry by police into a suspect's home. This case concerns the use of Apple's "Find My iPhone" to recover the theft of a smartphone.

After a man's iPhone was stolen by a man who assaulted him at a bus stop, the police were able to determine that the phone was inside a home. Minutes after the phone's location was pinpointed it was powered down. After knocking, the police entered the home through an unlocked window on the ground floor. After conducting their own search, the police were unable to find the phone but the suspect’s brother, acting on his own initiative, located it and their mother subsequently gave the police written permission to search.

The Supreme Court overruled the Appellate Division and found that neither exigency nor the hot pursuit doctrine justified the officers’ warrantless entry into the home. It did however find that the brother's location of the stolen smartphone was non-state action. It was attenuated from the unlawful search, and did not require the Court to invoke the exclusionary rule.

The Appellate Division found that, "immediate action was required because once the phone was turned off, it could be moved and the GPS capabilities would not function.", d. at 16, and also determined that there was a danger the phone might be destroyed. The Supreme Court ruled that exigent circumstances did not exist because the police did not have any reason to believe the suspect would harm anyone inside the home or the officers, or destroy the iPhone. "While it is possible that defendant powered down the phone so that he could not be as easily traced, deactivating a tracking device on an electronic piece of evidence simply reduces the trackable evidence to an average piece of evidence; the mere presence of evidence in a home does not alone justify a warrantless entry." Id. at 29.

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