CARSON CITY — Law enforcement does not need to show probable cause and get a warrant before obtaining cellphone records that show a person’s general whereabouts and phone usage, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The opinion by a three-judge panel upheld the murder, burglary and robbery convictions of Donald Taylor for the 2010 killing of Michael Pearson during a marijuana drug deal in Las Vegas. Taylor is serving a sentence of life without parole.
According to court records, Pearson had dropped off his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son at the Emerald Suites apartment of Angela Chenault, the child’s grandmother. At some point Pearson left and returned with Taylor and another man, Travon Miles. Chenault stopped Taylor, who had a gun, from going into a bedroom where the little boy was watching television and then went back to the kitchen where she was cooking.
Documents said Pearson retrieved a bag from above the refrigerator and put it on the kitchen table. When he asked for money from the men, they said they were taking it. Chenault said she saw Pearson reach for a gun in his waistband, but then turned back to the stove. Shots were fired, and when she turned around Pearson was lying in a pool of blood and the men grabbed the bag and fled.
Taylor appealed his jury conviction, arguing among other things that his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated when police, with help of the FBI, obtained cellphone location and use records from the cellphone provider.
That information led to Taylor’s arrest.
In the opinion authored by Justice Nancy Saitta, the high court said the warrantless access and use of Taylor’s historical cellphone location data did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.
The records, obtained from Sprint-Nextel with a subpoena, did not provide content of calls or text message, only numbers, duration and the location of the cell towers routing the calls.
Such information, the court said, were business records and Taylor had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Taylor also challenged an off-site, “show-up” identification of him by the child’s grandmother before Taylor’s arrest, claiming it violated his constitutional right to due process.
In that late-night identification in a parking lot, Chenault at first said she didn’t think Taylor was the man in her apartment, then conceded his faced “looks like him.”
Chenault also identified him during trial.
Justices said the show-up identification procedure itself was justified because it was essential for police to apprehend potentially dangerous suspects before they commit other crimes.
But justices said while the trial court judge should not have allowed that identification as evidence, the error was harmless because Chenault made a subsequent identification of Taylor in court.
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