Exigent Circumstances Justify Warrantless Cell Site Location Information

By Ken Wallentine

Gilliam physically forced a minor girl to accompany him from Maryland to New York City, where he raped her. Gilliam told the girl that he would force her younger sister into prostitution if she didn’t work for him as a prostitute. The girl’s foster mother reported to police that she was missing.

After an investigator learned of Gilliam’s association, the investigator confirmed with the girl’s birth mother that Gilliam used her daughter as a prostitute and that Gilliam planned to take her to New York City to work the streets there. The investigator asked Gilliam’s cell phone service provider, Sprint, to provide GPS location information for Gilliam’s phone. Sprint began to relay real-time location information to the investigator and to the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Two NYPD officers saw Gilliam and the girl on the street a couple of blocks from Gilliam’s mother’s apartment. The officers followed Gilliam and the girl into a building and confronted him. Gilliam attempted to flee but was subdued.

In his prosecution for sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud or coercion, Gilliam challenged the warrantless use of GPS location information to find him. The Stored Communications Act states that a provider may divulge “a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber … to a governmental entity, if the provider, in good faith, believes that an emergency involving danger of death or serious physical injury to any person requires disclosure without delay of information relating to the emergency” 18 U.S.C. § 2702(c)(4).

The court observed that numerous courts have held that the exigent circumstances doctrine allowed warrantless entry into premises to avoid risk of injury to a child that officers believed to be located there. The court opined that finding a victim of sexual exploitation on the streets might seem to be less urgent than the need to enter premises where a victim is being held. Even so, the court held that the need to locate the girl and Gilliam was sufficient to constitute exigent circumstances.

United States v. Gilliam, 2016 WL 7009952 (2nd Cir. 2016)

See also:
Emergency Warrantless Cell Phone Tracking Upheld, August 2016 Xiphos
Another Court Rules on Warrantless Cell Site Location Information, August 2016 Xiphos

Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides policy updates based on changing laws and court rulings, so you can rest easy knowing your policy reflects the latest case law. Contact us today to find out more.

Lexipol Law Enforcement

CHIEF KEN WALLENTINE is a Special Agent who directs the Utah Attorney General Training Center, overseeing use of force training and investigation and cold case homicide investigations. He is also a consultant and Senior Legal Advisor for Lexipol. Ken formerly served as Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General, serving over three decades in public safety before a brief retirement. He also serves as the Chairman of the Peace Officer Merit Commission of Greater Salt Lake County.

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