Search Warrant Required for Car "Black Box"

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.





Why The Florida Murder Witness Bill Will Not Work

Florida House Representative Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami) introduced a bill known as the witness protection bill.  As a general proposition, in Florida most court records and documents are publicly available.  HB 111 proposes an exception to public records with respect to names and identities of witnesses in homicide cases.  The Defense (The attorney and the Defendant) will still have direct access to this information.

The theory behind this bill, if one were to guess, is that people are not stepping forward as witness to murders because their information will be listed in the discovery disclosure made by the prosecution, which is, in turn, public record through the clerk of courts.  

The public's right to information and transparency under Florida's Sunshine Law is not absolute to begin with.  Active criminal investigations, open litigation, and several other categories of information are excluded already. Extending the exception from public records that exists during an open criminal investigation to the open criminal court case is certainly something the legislature can and may actually do.  The real question is, will it work?

If threats and intimidation from persons reviewing public records are the only reason for witness' failure to come forward to law enforcement, then perhaps.  More logically, a prospective witness to a murder is afraid of the Defendant. That is the person this witness believes, or knows, or saw,  kill someone.  This bill leaves intact, the right of the Defendant to have that information.  Taking that information from the Defendant and his Attorney, would tie the hands of the Defense behind its back, besides being clearly an unconstitutional invasion on the right to Due Process and a fair trial. 

A Court can, of course,  place conditions upon the Defense.  In matters of sensitivity, such as photographic evidence of child pornography, or witness statements made by minors, a standing order not to further disclose or discuss such  information is standard.  Should HB 111 pass and become law, such a condition, to be followed by the Courts, could increase the effectiveness of this proposed legislation.  

Logically speaking, one who is not concerned with the strictures against murder, is probably not too concerned with the penalties for disclosure of witness information in violation of the court order. If a Defendant's purpose is to intimidate witnesses to murder, (which is illegal) this rule just doesn't have the muscle to stop that from happening. While it is a good effort, HB 111 will not likely encourage homicide witnesses to overcome fear and testify in statistically more instances than at the present.