The Fourth Amendment has received significant attention in recent court rulings involving surveillance, electronic data retrieval, and other types of technology. Two rulings issued on October 21, 2019 demonstrate how difficult it can be to anticipate the outcome of Fourth Amendment disputes relating to technology. In one, the Georgia Supreme Court found the warrantless search of electronic data from a car following a fatal accident to be unconstitutional. In the second, the U.S. Court for the Western District of Tennessee held that the Fourth Amendment permitted the warrantless placement of a government surveillance camera on a man’s private hunting and fishing property.

Mobley v. State (Ga. Oct. 21, 2019)

In Mobley, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a trial court erred in denying a motion to suppress evidence that law enforcement retrieved from the electronic data recorder in the defendant’s car. In coming to this conclusion, the Mobley court ruled that – regardless of any reasonable expectation of privacy – the physical entry of a police officer into the defendant’s car to retrieve the electronic data was a search for Fourth Amendment purposes.

The Mobley case arose after a car driven by defendant Mobley collided with a car that pulled out of a private driveway; both occupants of the latter car died. Before the cars were removed from the accident scene, a police investigator entered both cars, and attached a crash data retrieval device to data ports in the cars to download available data. The data revealed that shortly before the collision, Mobley’s car was traveling almost 100 miles per hour. The next day, law enforcement applied for a warrant to seize the electronic data recorders. The warrant was issued, but no additional data was retrieved from the recorders. A grand jury indicted Mobley on a number of counts, including vehicular homicide.

Continue Reading Courts continue to consider intersection of Fourth Amendment and technology: without a warrant, retrieval of car’s electronic data unconstitutional, but surveillance on hunting property permissible