As Florida juvenile defense attorneys, we have seen an increasing number of criminal cases wherein the contents of one’s smartphone have become exceedingly relevant. It’s not just teens who have become reliant on smartphones of course. The Pew Research Center reports 95 percent of Americans own a cellphone of some kind and 77 percent have a smartphone, up from 35 percent in 2011 when researchers conducted the first survey of smartphone ownership. Juvenile criminal defense attorneys in Fort Lauderdale know that because these devices contain a wealth of personal data on each owner, it has raised all sorts of complex legal questions about privacy and evidence collection in the course of a criminal investigation and prosecution.
One question now poised for review by the Florida Supreme Court is whether a defendant’s smartphone passcode – unique to each person and the only way by which content on that device can be accessed – can be compelled by police or prosecutors. Two Florida appellate courts are split on the issue.
However, the tide may turn in favor of personal privacy protection, given the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (the federal appellate court that covers Florida), which ruled forced decryption of a smartphone amounted to violation of a defendant’s constitutional Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Continue reading