Another No Win Predicament
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by Laramie Boyd
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There have been several criminal court cases recently where the prosecution used the latest
technology to get a conviction, and also where defendants used the same type information in their defense. Cell phones and computers
that store information make for compelling alibis and/or incriminating evidence in such circumstances. And, as usual, there are two
views regarding whether the use of such technological data in court is constitutional or not. One view cites the possibility that
one's privacy is being invaded, and that without a search warrant the police have no right to go through a person's belongings. And
the other view holds that such stored material can be a tremendous weapon in bringing criminals to justice, or get an acquittal for
an innocent victim, so that suspected law breakers stopped by the police can't object to the content of their personal possessions
being scrutinized, and that no search warrant should be required. So the issue may soon land in the laps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Another tough decision has to be made by the Court, and the complications involved in whichever
direction the justices may decide are easy to identify. Should the police have the power and authority, with or without a search warrant,
to snoop into what some citizens believe to be their private lives: their medical history, their financial standing, maybe even their
religion and political views, anything that the person may have talked to someone about, or shown to someone that was stored on their
hand held device? Or, just as crucial, should warrants ever be given to "invade" someone's "privacy?" Should what people say or what
they do, in private, be open for government inspection at any time, let alone when they are rightly or wrongly accused of a crime?
Should being stopped for running a red light be cause for a police officer to ransack the driver's automobile to open up the contents
of their tech devices? An answer of no to these and other related questions would be hard to argue against.
The other side of that coin seems just as compelling to some. Should a rapist, or mass murderer, or drug dealer, or other heinous
criminal be set free when information exists that could be instrumental in their imprisonment? Should anyone "get away with murder"
even if there is probable evidence for a conviction that simply requires getting information from a cell phone? Does "prejudicial"
evidence mean evidence that would help put a killer where he belongs, and should it be inadmissible in a trial simply because it was
discovered in a cell phone search, without a search warrant?
Do we really want pedophiles
and mass murderers to go free because a police officer reported evidence of criminal activity on a cell phone? On the other hand,
is prosecuting a violent criminal worth sacrificing our "right" to privacy? It's hard to find the truth sometimes, and to know what's
best. This is one of those times. Let's hope some kind of intelligent rationale goes into the solution of this sticky problem, and
not the same old kind of resolution based on partisan politics and attempts to garner votes.