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The Champion

November 2012 , Page 30 

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United States v. Skinner: Using a Cell Phone Is Not A Consent to Search

By Daniel K. Gelb

On Aug. 14, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued the opinion in United States v. Skinner.1 In Skinner, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized data maintained by a cell phone service provider in an effort to derive as closely as possible the real-time geographical information residing on defendant Melvin Skinner’s “pay-as-you-go” mobile phone.2 The “cell tower” data was subsequently used to establish Skinner’s location as he transported drugs interstate on public roadways. DEA agents tracked the cell phone they learned was associated with Skinner, locating the device’s signal at a rest stop. Soon thereafter, law enforcement officials encountered a motorhome filled with over 1,100 pounds of marijuana. After litigating the merits of the seizure at some length, the trial court denied Skinner’s motion to suppress the government’s search of the motorhome, eventually resulting in a conviction for drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit mon

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