Courthouse Steps Decision: Carpenter v. United States

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In Carpenter, arrests made in an armed robbery case occurred because the Federal Bureau of Investigation was able to obtain “transactional records” of the cell phones owned by the alleged coconspirators.  These records track the date and time of a call and the approximate position of the caller.  The records were collected under the Stored Communications Act of 1986, which allows the government certain kinds of telecommunications records relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.  The defendants wanted the stored data to be inadmissible because the FBI failed to get a search warrant to acquire the records, thereby violating the Fourth Amendment. 

The district court dismissed this argument and the Sixth Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s decision. 

On June 22, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court, and ruled the government's activities violated the fourth ammendment. The government did not obtain a warrant for the search of the cell phone records, and therefore violated standing constitutional law. 


Dean A. Mazzone, Deputy Chief, Criminal Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office

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