United States v. Carpenter, No. 14-1572 (6th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Investigating robberies in Michigan and Ohio in 2010-2012, the government obtained court orders under the Stored Communications Act (SCA) 18 U.S.C. 2703(d) to obtain Carpenter’s cell-site location information. Unlike other provisions of the SCA, the court-ordered production mechanism in section 2703(d) does not require law enforcement to get a warrant before acquiring such records. Carpenter’s wireless carriers were to provide “the locations of cell/site sector (physical addresses) for the target telephones at call origination and at call termination for incoming and outgoing calls.” MetroPCS produced records spanning 127 days. Sprint produced two days of records covering the period when Carpenter’s phone was “roaming” in northeastern Ohio. The government used the records to establish his physical proximity to many of the robberies: Convicted of Hobbs Act robbery and related gun charges, 18 U.S.C. 924(c) and 1951(a), Carpenter was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court held that the acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search that requires a warrant supported by probable cause. On remand, the Sixth Circuit again affirmed. The unconstitutionality of the government’s search was not clear until after the Supreme Court ruling. The FBI agents who obtained Carpenter’s information acted in good faith, reasonably relying on the SCA.