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.
Many police departments around the country use body worn cameras to capture officers’ interactions with citizens and suspects. When properly used, the footage from these encounters has proven helpful to prosecutors and defense attorneys, allowing both sides to examine one aspect of the encounter. When combined with eyewitness reports, police reports, footage from video cameras in the area and traditional evidence, a more complete understanding of the incident should be available. The growing popularity of body worn cameras has revealed, however, that the recordings can present a one-sided view, and are capable of being misused, misinterpreted, and tampered with.