Foreign Jurisdiction Law Clerk: Part 2

Written by Jobeth Bowers. Posted in , .

State v. Barajas, 817 N.W.2d 204 (This is an independent analysis of the case, not shepardized)

I’m starting to get a good feel for the drug culture in Minnesota after reading another 4th amendment case from their Supreme court. So here we have another meth case, good times. Don’t these kids know what this stuff does to your brain cells? Maybe the long term cognitive impairment was there before the meth…

Regardless, in this case our hero was a cell phone collector who was also squatting in an unoccupied apartment. Police received a report of his squatting from the landlord, and upon investigation found defendant and his cell phone collection. He didn’t speak much english, and upon contacting a border patrol agent determined him to be unlawfully in the country, and detained him. Border patrol advised the offices that defendant may be involved in drug trafficking, which was apparently enough to create probable cause to search the apartment. With this apparent probable cause and consent of the landlord(which is probably all they really needed), the apartment was searched and “The police recovered five plastic bags containing a white crystal substance, a digital scale, powdered milk, salt, an empty sugar container, motor oil, razor blades, an “SD card” that can be physically moved from one cellular telephone to another for the purpose of transferring data, a fourth cellular telephone, and packaging materials, including tin foil, plastic bags, plastic wrap, and electrical tape.”

He was charged with possession with intent to distribute. He moved to suppress photographs taken from his cell phone(s) and such motion was granted due to the overly invasive nature of the search: “intentional invasion into the contents of an electronic device” by the police, which requires an “intentional search . . . or other deliberate key strikes,” must be supported by either a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement. The district court also concluded that Officer Schroeder’s warrantless search of Barajas’s cellular telephone did not fall under the search-incident-to-arrest exception to the warrant requirement because no exigency existed, Barajas had already been removed from the premises at the time of the search, and the telephone was not contraband, an instrumentality of trespassing, or a weapon affecting officer safety.” This quote encompasses almost the entire first half of my con crim pro 1 class. Good work Minnesota courts!

However, apparently our hero had signed a consent form to have the phones searched. Although defendant did not speak much english, it was apparently OK with the court that he sign a consent form entirely in english. I’m certain the local officers in Moorhead explained the form and he signed it intelligently and knowingly of its purpose and extent of the consent. All of this aside, it was apparently good enough for the court to reconsider the suppression motion and allow the photos. (I recant my previous praise to the court).

With the evidence in, trial commenced, and defendant was found guilty by a jury of his “peers.” Appeal ensued.

It must be easy to brief cases as a Minnesota law student. If its not, and I’m just reading softball opinions, my apologies. The court breaks down the issues in the opinion:

ISSUES

I. Did the district court err by denying appellant’s motion to suppress evidence obtained by the police during a warrantless search of appellant’s cellular telephone?

II. Did the district court err by admitting in evidence photographs recovered from appellant’s cellular telephone that were irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial?

III. Did the district court err by admitting in evidence drug-courier-profile testimony?

How sweet is that? I mean, this case continues on as essentially a brief of itself. This case results in what is essentially a “moral victory” and one more important to the search guidelines for this type of evidence. “An individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the concealed contents of a cellular telephone. Because appellant’s cellular telephone concealed the photographs stored within the telephone’s internal memory, the investigating officer was required to obtain a warrant before searching that telephone.” Basically, he won, but he lost. The search was no good, but the district court error was not only harmless, there was enough other corroborating evidence to convict. However, this does seem to solidify, if there were no such cases before it, that a warrant or real informed consent is required before snooping through someone’s cell phone photos.

Jobeth Bowers

Written By Jobeth Bowers

Maryland Attorney Jobeth Bowers is the founder of Bowers Law and a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law

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