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Can Law Enforcement Make You Unlock Your Mobile Phone?

Technology is rapidly changing the way criminal cases are investigated and prosecuted in Florida. The law surrounding criminal cases isn't known for evolving quickly and it certainly struggles to keep up with ever-changing technology. In fact, changes in technology are forcing courts to rethink how they define centuries-old legal theories. Consider a question posed in a recent Florida criminal case: can the police compel you to give up the password to your phone, or is that coerced testimony barred by the constitution?

Can the Police Force You to Give Up the Password to Your Phone?

For now, the answer to that question appears to be “maybe.” The confusion is based on the fact that two different Florida appellate courts have each decided the issue differently. This creates a situation where the Florida Supreme Court – and potentially, the United State Supreme Court – may have to clear up the dispute.

The issue came up most recently in the case G.A.Q.L. vs. Florida . The plaintiff in the case is identified only by initials because he was a minor at the time of his arrest. In G.A.Q.L, the minor was driving a vehicle recklessly while under the influence of alcohol. The minor eventually wrecked his vehicle, and one of his passengers died as a result of the impact. After the crash, the minor's blood alcohol concentration registered a .086, which is over four times the legal limit for minors.

The minor and another passenger survived, and the passenger informed law enforcement that she and the minor had been communicating by text messages earlier that day. The police wanted those texts as evidence and obtained a warrant for the phone as well as well as a court order demanding the minor give up his password.

The minor filed a motion to overturn the order, making the argument that in this case handing over the password was effectively testifying against himself. In other words, law enforcement's attempts to force him to give up the password is no different than an attempt on their part to make him answer questions against his will. The court agreed, holding that divulging a password was more than just submitting information, it was effectively forcing the minor to go inside his mind and be interrogated against his will.

This ruling is in direct conflict with another case, called State vs. Stahl. In Stahl, a defendant refused to hand over the passcode to his locked phone which was believed to have evidence that he had photographed women illegally. With these two rulings in conflict, it is unclear how this issue will ultimately be decided.

Charged with a Crime? You Need a Strong Advocate

The minor is the case above was only able to fight back and protect his constitutional right against self-incrimination thanks to the work of his criminal defense attorney. If you have been charged with a crime in the Tampa area, attorney Omar Abdelghany can be that type of advocate for you. Contact the OA Law Firm today for your free consultation.

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"I was in the unfortunate situation of having to hire a lawyer for my grandson and since I did not know of anyone that could refer me, I had to rely on my judgement of character and when I sat down in front of Omar, I knew that I had made the right decision. He is a very professional, well versed in the law, knowledgeable young man that takes the time to explain every aspect of your case to you. He returns calls promptly, knows your case inside out and is very punctual in meetings and court hearings. I could not have chosen a better, more qualified lawyer to represent my grandson. He comes highly recommended by me and you will not go wrong in obtaining his services." Gloria
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"It is with pleasure that we wish to recommend Mr. Omar Abdelghany in his practice as a Criminal Defense Attorney. He was hired in the defense of our son. The defense included more than one offense, which required legal maneuvering to address the issues. Omar's skills came into play in positioning the case, which resulted in a good outcome given the facts at hand." Ted