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Police Use of Surveillance Stingrays Requires a Warrant

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

It is unconstitutional for police to use Stingrays without a warrant. And yet, it happens more often than is ever discovered.

Last week, the Florida Court of Appeals ruled that any evidence obtained through the use of a Stingray device without a warrant is inadmissible, even if police used admissible technology to come up with almost the same information. This ruling should not have come as a surprise -- it is consistent with almost every court ruling of a Stingray device. But police still keep using them, often without warrants, hoping to get away with an unlawful search and seizure.

Constitutional Challenges to Stingrays

A Stingray, also known as "cell site simulators" or "IMSI catchers," is an invasive cell phone surveillance device that simulates a cell phone tower. It sends out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information. Police use this information to pinpoint suspects, not only to apprehend them, but also to collect evidence of crimes. Law enforcement agencies are required by law to get a warrant to use these devices, since it is a violation of the 4th Amendment to use third party surveillance equipment to gather evidence against a suspect. However, according to the ACLU, law enforcement agencies throughout the country have Stingrays, and use them in secrecy, without warrants.

Use An Unwarranted Stingray, Suspects Go Free

In the Florida case, Quinton Redell Sylvestre allegedly robbed a restaurant, and then was involved in the shooting and killing of a victim. Sounds like a guy anyone might want to get off the streets, right? Unfortunately, the police used a Stingray to triangulate his position. They found him, three guns, masks, ammunition, and a stun gun. Case closed? Right? Well, yes, but the big book shut the other way. None of this evidence could be used to prove Sylvestre's guilt because it became inadmissible due to an improper warrant to use the Stingray. Loss of this evidence will make it extremely more difficult to convict Sylvestre.

It's curious why police keep using unwarranted Stingrays. Perhaps it's like a numbers game of Sharks and Minnows. The police think the odds are in their favor -- use an unwarranted Stingray a hundred times, and you may only be caught once. Don't use one, and you might not catch many criminals.

If you were recently arrested, and believe that a Stingray may have been used to capture you or any evidenced being used against you, contact a local criminal defense attorney. A lawyer will be able to determine if any unlawful means were used to gather incriminating evidence, and how to keep it excluded.

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