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We handle cases across the United States. Allen Stewart is licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio and Arizona.

Court Rules Cops Need Warrant for Car Black Box Data

U.S. Supreme Court Declines Hearing on Automotive Evidence Issue

Police investigators can’t access a car’s “black box” without a warrant, per a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued Oct. 2, 2017 on State of Florida v. Charles Wiley Worsham, Jr.

The High Court declined to hear the case, meaning the previous court’s decision stands: the black box data cannot be lawfully obtained without a warrant.

The privacy rights decision came in the wake of a Delray Beach criminal case concerning Worsham’s prosecution in the 2013 killing of 25-year-old Amanda Patterson.

Patterson died after Charles Worsham Jr. crashed his car into a canal bridge on Oct. 6, 2013. Delray Beach police investigators tapped into the sensing and diagnostic module of Worsham’s vehicle without a warrant. The data revealed Worsham was traveling at 85 miles per hour before hitting the bridge.

Previous appeals courts ruled tapping into his car’s “black box” without a warrant violated Worsham’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure.

The ruling deals a blow to Palm Beach County prosecutors and their DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide case against Worsham.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a state appeals court’s earlier decision, claiming a car’s black box should not be treated the same way as an individual’s privacy concerning smartphone searches.

“The information (from the black box) does not in any way expose personal information about the vehicle’s driver, including the driver’s whereabouts,” wrote Chief Assistant Attorney General Celia A. Terenzio. “The information collected in the (black box) is not for the purpose of long-term monitoring or surveillance. It contains no stored information other than information gleaned a few seconds prior to a crash, for which it is intended.”

Since the issue cannot be appealed further, Worsham’s trial will proceed. However, it is unknown how not having access to the information will affect the prosecution’s case.

Terenzio called the black box data “important evidence for the prosecution of this case.”

Jurors will be unable to hear the data regarding Worsham’s speed before the crash. However they will still hear how Worsham’s blood had a blood alcohol content of .171, more than twice the legal limit.

Worsham was driving westbound on Old Germantown Road just after 11 p.m. when his car hit the wall on the south side of a canal bridge, flipping three times and ejecting both him and Patterson. Patterson died on the scene, while Worsham recovered.

Worsham’s attorney Jack Fleischman said he has no memory of the crash.

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