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Carpenter v. U.S. - Supreme Court Agrees to Hear a Case that Could Affect Criminal Defense in a Technologically Advanced Age. Part I: the Case

Posted by Josh Valentine | Nov 29, 2017 | 0 Comments

Two hundred years before cell phones, the founding fathers enacted the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect our citizens' privacy. After suffering and escaping the King's “general” search and seizure activities without any warrants, much less probable cause, the colonies stood against any such activities, albeit after years of debate. The result was the Fourth Amendment. Fast forward to 2011. A gunman named Carpenter was arrested and convicted based, in part, on evidence gathered from cell tower site data without a warrant. The case and Carpenter's criminal defense sparked a deeper analysis and examination of privacy protection afforded citizens in the Fourth Amendment. On November 29, 2017, the United States Supreme Court will deliberate about how much latitude law enforcement may employ in conducting surveillance in a modern, digital world.

Carpenter vs. U.S. Case

The potentially paradigm-changing case facts of the Carpenter vs. U.S. case begin with a group of Detroit individuals conspiring and executing armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio. Ironically, the robbery ring targeted cell phones, and cell phone and electronics stores. The modus operandi of the group involved entering the stores with guns blazing, ordering all of the customers to the rear of the store, and instructing all the employees to empty the new cell phones into bags. In April 2011, four were captured, arrested, and charged. Authorities seized a cell phone from one of the arrested men after he confessed and agreed to comply with the investigation. FBI officials then ordered data derived from transactional records reflecting subscriber information, toll records, and call details of listed and unlisted numbers. A magistrate judge granted the request for records according to the Stored Communications Act.

The records revealed Carpenter's cell phone was engaged with cell towers within a two-mile radius of four of the robberies. Armed with the evidence, the FBI arrested him and filed charges. Eventually, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 1395 months or 116 years in federal prison for aiding and abetting the use or carriage of a firearm during a federal crime of violence. Carpenter was remanded to federal prison and began serving his sentence.

Request for Judicial Review

In 2015, Carpenter's criminal defense team filed an appeal. His 2015 appeal attempt failed when his conviction and sentence was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals to the Sixth Circuit Court. Then, in 2016, Carpenter petitioned for a writ of certiorari which was answered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation by filing an amicus curiae brief in support of Carpenter. When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the Carpenter vs. U.S. case, digital entities worldwide will be paying attention. The case illuminates the value of our citizen's privacy as it is measured against safety and law enforcement's ability to rapidly track and investigate suspects utilizing cell phone tower data without a warrant.

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About the Author

Josh Valentine

All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person that was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer.  So that's why I became an attorney.  I understand what you are going through—and I'm here to help you.  Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life. Before attending law school, I worked for a law firm focused on record clearing services, including expungements, pardons, and motions for appropriate relief.  The vast experience and understanding of North Carolina's expungement laws that I have acquired has given me an advantage in defending criminal charges, because not only do I fight for the best possible outcome in your case, but I am also continually conscious of the long term effects that a criminal charge or conviction can have on a person's life.  As such, I will do whatever I can to insure that my clients will not end up with a criminal record.  I was born in New London, Connecticut, but spent the first few years of my life in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Rutherfordton, North Carolina in 2001.  Upon graduating from high school, I attended Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I majored in Accounting.  Eager to finish school, I began law school at Charlotte School of Law the day of my graduation from GWU, and completed my law degree in two years (instead of the typical three). During law school, I studied hard and strived to acquire the most experience possible so that I would be practice ready upon graduation.  The opportunities I gained included prosecuting criminal defendants through an externship with the Burke County District Attorney's Office, defending criminal defendants through Charlotte School of Law's Criminal Justice Clinic, and interning with Farmer & Morris, PLLC. I am blessed with a beautiful wife, Gabrielle Valentine, who is an attorney at Farmer & Morris, PLLC, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina.  In my free time, I enjoy helping with the youth group in my church, playing basketball and softball in our local church leagues, serving in the prison ministry, and spending time with my family.  Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar


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