The digital age is an exciting time. New developments in technology are routinely made, bringing about changes that have the potential to affect our daily lives. But with these new advances comes changes to the legal landscape. These new changes have the potential to dramatically change your life, and as such, require your attention. One of the most drastic changes in the legal world has been the use of cell phones as a source of evidence. This hot button topic was the source of a recent Indiana Court of Appeals decision, in which the Court reversed a woman’s criminal conviction1. This case and authentication of cell phone records for court (to make them admissible) is the focus of this blog post.
In Walters, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that phone records used to convict the defendant were unreliable, and as such, the trial court’s conviction was reversed. The relevant facts are as follows: In 2015, an IGA was robbed early in the morning, before the store opened to the public. During the robbery, the store manager and the defendant, an IGA employee, were the only ones at the store. After the robbery occurred, the Defendant became a suspect after relaying multiple different versions of the robbery to the police. Subsequently, the police obtained copies of the Defendant’s phone records, and from those records, the police found text messages regarding the robbery that implicated the Defendant as a co-conspirator.
The first issue for the police was that the Defendant and her Boyfriend shared a phone number, meaning that the text messages sent from that number could have either come from the Defendant or her Boyfriend. At an evidentiary hearing two years later, the State requested that the Court accept into evidence the cell phone records obtained from Verizon. The State argued that the phone records were necessary to prove a conspiracy occurred, and that the State had a signed affidavit from Verizon showing the authenticity of the records. The Defendant, on the other hand, objected, stating that it could not be proven who sent the message. Furthermore, the Defendant argued that the records were not “self-authenticating” and that the affidavit provided by Verizon “could apply to anything [as it did not] state what phone number it applies to . . . what search warrant it is responding to.”
The Court of Appeals, in reversing the conviction, agreed with Defendant and found the records from Verizon to be unreliable. Specifically, the Court stated that “the certificate offered to authenticate the phone records for the . . . Phone was issued approximately eighteen months after the records were obtained, does not contain the phone number for which the search warrant requested records, does not contain the number of pages it purports to authenticate, and does not contain the dates the records encompass.” As such, the Court found there was insufficient evidence for a conviction of conspiracy absent the phone records. While the Court reversed the conviction, the Court did leave open the possibility for the Defendant to be re-tried. The Court found that a jury could have convicted Defendant from the phone records if the records would have been properly authenticated.
This area of law is extremely technical, while also having the potential to completely change the course of your life. An individual who is unaware of their rights may have them violated without even knowing, leading to a negative result for you. The importance of understanding the status of developments in the law is the key to avoiding criminal liability, as well as being an engaged citizen in our participatory system of government. This blog post on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal defense cases and appeals of criminal convictions throughout the state. Knowing the law is a key to be an engaged citizen. Having criminal defense counsel current on the latest developments in law provides you with the best criminal defense. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.