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District of Rhode Island Ruling on Seizure and Search of iPhone

On Monday, Judge William E. Smith denied a motion to suppress evidence seized in a search of the Defendant's iPhone 5 by a local police department. See, United States v. Gomes, Cr. No. 17-39-02, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113181 (D.R.I. July 9, 2018). The Defendant was charged with sex trafficking minors.

The government argued that it had probable cause to believe that the Defendant's cell phone was used in a crime because he was seen using the phone in a car while driving a minor to a location where she was to engage in criminal sexual activity.

"Officer Corvese's observation of Gomes using his cellphone while occupying a car connected to criminal activity was sufficient for the officer to form a reasonable belief that the cellphone could provide valuable incriminating information. To ensure that Gomes did not attempt to conceal the phone, which was evidence in an ongoing investigation, Officer Corvese had the lawful authority to seize it. Thus, the officer's seizure of Gomes's iPhone incident to his arrest was constitutional." Id. at 15-16.

The phone was seized during an unlawful entry. The police subsequently obtained warrants to search the phone. They were only able to unlock the phone after getting a federal search warrant, after first not being able to search the phone with a state warrant. An interview with the victim gave the police independent grounds to search the phone, and made the inevitable discovery doctrine applicable. There was a clear exception to the exclusionary rule.

The Court also disagreed with the Defendant that the police's waiting three days after the seizure of the phone to obtain a search warrant was a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment. Judge Smith ruled that the three day period necessary to obtain the warrant was permitted. "the Court must balance law enforcement's concerns for preserving evidence against Gomes's privacy interest." Id. at *23.

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