The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined without comment to hear the appeals of two Baltimore bank robbers who had argued that police violated their constitutional rights by tracking their past travels through cellphone tower records collected without a search warrant.
The high court’s rejection of Aaron Graham’s and Eric Jordan’s appeals was surprising in light of the justices’ 5-4 decision last week that police – absent an imminent threat – need search warrants to check the records. The court’s expected course, short of hearing the appeals, was to grant them, vacate the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the men and remand the case with instructions that the court apply the justices’ decision in Carpenter v. United States, No. 16-402
However, the high court opted to deny the appeals without explanation.
In their Carpenter decision, the justices said a modern-day search of people’s whereabouts through tower records impinges to an unprecedented degree on their reasonable expectation of privacy in their physical location and movements. Police surveillance of cellphone-tower records constitutes a search under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and thus requires a search warrant in the absence of an emergency, the high court held.
“Mapping a cell phone’s location over the course of … days provides an all-encompassing record of the holder’s whereabouts,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “As with GPS information, the time-stamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his familial, political, professional, religious and sexual associations. These location records hold for many Americans the privacies of life.”
Graham and Jordan, who were not parties to the Supreme Court case, were convicted of the Baltimore bank robberies in large part based on tower records that placed them at the scene of robberies but which police retrieved via subpoena and not search warrants based on probable cause.
The men’s appeals of their convictions had been pending at the Supreme Court while the justices’ considered the similar appeal involving robberies in the Midwest that resulted in Timothy Carpenter’s conviction based on cellphone records collected by police without a search warrant.
Graham’s request for review was docketed at the Supreme Court as Aaron Graham v. United States, No. 16-6308. Jordan’s request was docketed as Eric Jordan v. United States, No. 16-6694.