In a decision that seems to codify common sense more than anything else, The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled that law enforcement must possess a warrant from a court in order to retrieve information from a vehicle black box.

In State v. Worsham, The Palm Beach Circuit Court excluded black box evidence downloaded by law enforcement without a search warrant after a fatal crash from the the Defendant's vehicle.  A warrant was not obtained by law enforcement. The Office of the State Attorney appealed the decision of the Trial Court to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. 

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants the "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. "

Generally, that requires that an officer wishing to conduct a search must have Probable Cause that a crime has been committed, and must apply to a court for a search warrant based on that information.  If there are exigent circumstances, the officer may conduct the search without a warrant.  

Some examples of exigent circumstances are, the imminent destruction of evidence, or the harming of a person within a residence, or other time sensitive reasons. The determination of whether there were truly exigent circumstances at the time, is conducted by a trial court in a motion to exclude or suppress evidence made by the Defense, such as in this case.

The Worsham Court found that the Defendant had an expectation of privacy in the vehicle's computer, and that no exigent circumstances existed that made the application of a warrant impossible. Going forward, that is the law of the land.


Stay Legal,

Spencer J. Charif, Esq.