USA v. Kevin McCall, No. 21-13092 (11th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
While losing in a high-stakes poker game, Defendant allegedly used his cell phone to arrange an armed robbery to reclaim his losses. Because a cell phone was directly tied to the crime, no one disputes that there was probable cause to search that device. But the police went one step further. They secured a warrant to search an iCloud account that backed up the phone twelve hours before the poker game and robbery. The iCloud warrant permitted a search of almost all the account’s data with no time limitation. Based on evidence secured by that warrant, the government prosecuted, and a jury convicted Defendant of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Given the warrant’s breadth and the account’s indirect link to the crime, Defendant argued that the district court should have suppressed the iCloud evidence.
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court found that although Fourth Amendment standards are largely settled, their application to developing areas of technology is not. Like judges, law enforcement officers operating in good faith may struggle to apply existing standards to new circumstances. That is where the exclusionary rule’s good faith exception comes in. The court explained that the government concedes that the iCloud warrant fell short in certain respects, but it argues that reasonable officers could have believed it to be valid. The court wrote that it agreed that the warrant was not so deficient in probable cause, particularity, or otherwise that it would be unreasonable for an officer to rely on it in good faith.