In an extremely controversial 4-3 opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld trial and Appellate Division rulings compelling a defendant to provide his cellphone passcode pursuant to a search warrant. The defendant was an Essex County Sheriff’s Officer accused of providing a drug dealer confidential information about an investigation into the dealer and his co-conspirators. The drug dealer gave evidence establishing that the sheriff’s officer provided him information about undercover surveillance of his vehicle and phones, as well as other case related information. Law enforcement confirmed there were numerous texts and calls between the sheriff’s officer and the drug dealer. Law enforcement obtained a search warrant for the officer’s cellphones, but were unable to access them without the defendant’s passcodes or PINs.
Every day we are bombarded with news about the ever-expanding investigation into the President and the alleged Russian connection to his staff. The news media has been filled with headlines and postings about people who are labeled a “person of interest,” a “subject,” a “target” or a “witness”. Do these terms have specific meanings to federal law enforcement? Yes and no. In the federal system, the term “person of interest” is not officially used. It’s use became widespread by some in law enforcement and the media back in 1996 during the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta when it was announced that a security guard was a person of interest in the bombing. It euphemistically means that someone has suspicions about the person but not sufficient evidence. There are, however, very specific Department of Justice definitions for a target, subject or witness of an investigation.
Violent police encounters and police officer involved shootings have dominated the national press for some time. Such encounters have led to mass protests; much-needed examinations of police policies, procedures and training; and pleas for better relations between the police and the communities they serve. One result has been the call for body worn video cameras that record encounters between police and citizens in real time. While not perfect, these body worn cameras can provide valuable evidence of what transpired at a given moment during what may have been a high stress encounter.
Between the President’s accusation that the prior President tapped his phones, and WikiLeaks recent exposure of alleged CIA hacking tools and techniques, much has been reported in recent days about the government’s ability to intercept and listen to our conversations over our cellphones; computers; smart home devices such as televisions and baby monitors; products such as Alexa and Amazon Echo; encrypted messaging apps such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram; and home security cameras and systems. All of these devices provide potential ways for the government and hackers to enter our seemingly private worlds and eavesdrop. The difference between the government and a hacker, however, is that the government must obtain a court authorized warrant to do so.
In many types of criminal cases, the right expert can be invaluable. Whether it is a forensic accountant in a complex fraud or tax investigation; a medical or billing expert in a healthcare fraud investigation; a forensic psychiatrist for a sex abuse or child pornography case; a computer expert for a computer crimes matter; or a drug or gang expert in a serious drug case, the proper expert retained early in the investigation can assist the client’s criminal defense attorney in his or her efforts to prevent the charges from being filed, or to develop a solid defense to aid in plea negotiations or to prevail at trial.
It’s 6 a.m. or 8 p.m., your doorbell rings and two people are standing outside holding up their badges and credentials. They say they are Special Agents with the FBI and would like to talk with you for just a few minutes about something important. They ask if they could come in to speak with you privately. Caught off-guard, and not wanting them to think that you have anything to hide, you invite them in (and, of course, you don’t want your neighbors to see them talking to you on your front steps). The agents are “friendly” and just have a few questions to get your input, your side of things. You decide to talk to them, only for a few minutes, in the comfort of your own home or office. At the end, they thank you for your time and hand you either a grand jury subpoena or a “target letter.” They say that you should get an attorney, or if you can’t afford one, the court will arrange for an attorney for you.