The ability of law enforcement to access the cell phone content of a criminal defendant has received considerable attention in recent years. The issue has been the same in case after case. If the cell phone is seized as part of an investigation, the security settings, such as passcodes, shield the content from law enforcement. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently considered whether a court order requiring a criminal defendant to disclose his cell phone pass codes violates his right to not incriminate himself pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and/or New Jersey’s statutory or common law right against self-incrimination.
Quincy Lowery was the target of a State narcotics investigation. During the investigation, he informed detectives that Robert Andrews, a former Essex County Sheriff’s Officer, had given him information concerning the investigation, and had told him how to avoid criminal exposure. Andrews and Lowery had known each other for about a year, and belonged to the same motorcycle club. Lowery informed detectives that he regularly communicated with Andrews over FaceTime. During one of these communications, Andrews told Lowery to get rid of his cell phones because members of law enforcement were doing wiretaps after the arrest of members of the Crips gang. Lowery told Andrews that he thought he was being followed by the police, and texted Andrews the license plate number of one of the vehicles. Andrews then informed him that the plate number belonged either to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office or Sheriff’s Department. He also instructed Lowery to put his car on a lift to see if it had a tracking device attached to it. After seeing a picture from Lowery of someone who was following him, Andrews told Lowery that the person was with the Prosecutor’s Office. Lowery’s allegations were corroborated by his cell phone records.
The State obtained warrants for cell phone numbers belonging to both Lowery and Andrews. The warrants showed 114 calls and text messages between the two over a period of six weeks. Andrews was indicted for official misconduct, hindering apprehension and obstruction of justice.