United States v. Sanders, No. 14-1805 (6th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Police arrested men suspected of committing armed robberies at Detroit-area stores. One confessed that the group had robbed nine stores in Michigan and Ohio in 2010-2011, supported by a shifting collection of 15 drivers and lookouts. He gave the FBI the cell phone numbers of other participants; the FBI reviewed his call records and obtained orders under the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), for release of records for 16 numbers, including “[a]ll subscriber information, toll records and call detail records including listed and unlisted numbers dialed or otherwise transmitted to and from" the phones for relevant dates and “cell site information for the target telephones at call origination and at call termination” to obtain evidence against Sanders, Carpenter and others. The government charged Carpenter with six, and Sanders with two, Hobbs Act counts, 18 U.S.C. 1951, and aiding the use or carriage of a firearm during a crime of violence, 18 U.S.C. 924(c), 1951(a). The records showed that each used his cellphone within one-half-to-two miles of several robberies while the robberies occurred. A jury convicted on all of the Hobbs Act counts and convicted Carpenter on all but one of the gun counts. The court sentenced Carpenter to 1,395 months’ and Sanders to 170 months’ imprisonment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting a Fourth Amendment challenge. The content of a communication is protected by the Fourth Amendment; routing information necessary to convey it is not. The court distinguished between GPS tracking and the far less precise phone locational information.