(AmericanProsperity.com) – The Utah Supreme Court ruled on December 14 that American citizens cannot be compelled to share the passcodes of their phones with law enforcement. According to a Fox News report, the Court’s ruling will have massive consequences for digital privacy. The decision came after the state main court ruled in favor of Alfonso Valdez, who US authorities accused of assaulting and kidnapping his ex-girlfriend.
In the ruling, Utah Supreme Court Justice Paige Peterson wrote that police officers seized Valdez’s cellphone from his pocket, and eventually got a search warrant for the device’s contents. However, the officers couldn’t access the cellphone’s contents because they weren’t able to crack Valdez’s passcode, which prompted them to ask him to provide it. Peterson noted that Valdez refused to do it, which made it impossible for officers to unlock the cellphone and search its content.
The Supreme Court justice added that, during Valdez’s trial, the State elicited testimony from the officer about his refusal to give his passcode when asked. Peterson explained that the State argued during closing arguments that his refusal, along with the lack of evidence from Valdez’s phone, damaged the veracity of one of his defenses.
While the jury ended up convicting Valdez, Utah’s Court of Appeals eventually overturned the decision after ruling that, under the Fifth Amendment, the suspect had a right to not provide the passcode. In its opinion on the matter, the state’s Supreme Court wrote it agreed with the court of appeals in the stance that verbally providing the passcode constitutes a “testimonial communication” under the Fifth Amendment.
The Court also recognized that the circumstances surrounding the suspect’s case were “unique.” The justices pointed out in their written opinion that the case involved “modern technology” in a scenario that the United States Supreme Court hasn’t “addressed” yet.
During an interview with ABC4, the Utah Attorney’s General Office said that it feels “deeply disappointed” with the court’s ruling. The office added it’s studying options for “further review.”
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