Of Poisonous Trees And Their Fruit: Illegal Searches

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Wat if I got 2 take him 2 da hospital wat do I say and dos marks on his neck omg.

A text on a cell phone. Most text messages are not this dramatic and most text messages do not set off a firestorm of debate about Fourth Amendment rights to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. But this one did.

This text was located on a cell phone allegedly viewed by law enforcement at the apartment of Trisha Oliver of Cranston, Rhode Island prior to obtaining a warrant to search the premises. Officers were present in the apartment after six-year-old Marco Nieves, son of Ms. Oliver, was taken to the hospital in cardiac arrest.

Although the text failed to send, its contents readily convey the desperation of someone concerned for what has happened and what might come next. Marco died eleven hours later.

Possibly based on the text message viewed by law enforcement, police confiscated the cell phone from Michael Patino, the boyfriend of Ms. Oliver. Confronted with knowledge of the text messages, Mr. Patino admitted to hitting Marco and was indicted in 2009 for his murder. Search warrants were obtained to search the apartment and obtain cell phone and other documentary evidence.

In September 2012, ruling on a motion by Mr. Patino, Rhode Island Superior Court Justice Judith Savage found Mr. Patino had a reasonable expectation that his text messages were private. The judge issued an order suppressing evidence obtained after the warrantless search of the cell phone and the fruits of that search, including the confession of Mr. Patino.

Certain circumstances allow for warrantless searches including:

  • Consent
  • Incriminating evidence in plain view
  • Compelling or exigent circumstances

In this case, the judge ruled no such circumstances existed to excuse violation of the Fourth Amendment requirement to obtain an appropriate search warrant.

This is a sad, difficult case that worked to uphold protections provided by the Constitution of the United States. But unlike the life of Marco Nieves, this case is far from over.

Posted in Constitutional Rights | Tagged cell phone searches, fourth amendment, search and seizure