In a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision – Commonwealth v. Fulgiam – the Court held that the search of the content of text messages requires a search warrant. Despite the existence of such a warrant in this case, however, the SJC rule that reversal was not required.
The background was as follows. The two victims (a man and a woman) were robbed and killed in their apartment. There was evidence that the defendants were involved in drug sales with the male victim. “[T]hrough a court order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §2703(d)” (part of the Stored Communications Act), in response to an administrative subpoena issued pursuant to G.L. c.271, §17B, the Commonwealth procured the defendants’ cellular telephone records. The records “include[ed] call detail information …, subscriber information, cell site location information …, and, for Corbin, the content of text messages.” On appeal, Corbin argued that the Commonwealth’s warrantless access to the content of his text messages “was unlawful on statutory and constitutional grounds, and that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to file a motion to suppress the records.”
In its decision, the SJC opined that under 18 U.S.C. §2073(a) and art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, “a warrant was required to obtain access to the content of Corbin’s text messages.” The Court explained that “[a] warrant with probable cause was required because Corbin had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the content of his text messages.” Therefore, stated the Court, “a motion to suppress challenging the Commonwealth’s access [to the text messages] on these grounds likely would have been successful.” The Court concluded, however, that defense counsel’s failure to seek suppression of the text messages did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. Continue reading →