Court Refuses to Apply the Carpenter Ruling Retroactively

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United States v. Thomas, 897 F.3d 807 (7th Cir. 2018)

John Thomas met Whitney “Strawberry” Blackwell, a stripper at Club Venus, and she became one of his girlfriends. After the relationship quickly soured, Blackwell stole $50,000, 2,500 OxyContin pills, and an ounce of cocaine from Thomas. Thomas retaliated by kidnapping Blackwell’s younger brother and sister, taking them across state lines, and demanding the return of his cash and drugs.

Officers obtained Thomas’ cell site location information (CSLI), but without a search warrant. Using this information, Thomas was found, arrested and subsequently convicted for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping. On appeal, Thomas raised a variety of issues, including claiming the appellate court should apply the decision in Carpenter v. United States retroactively to exclude the CSLI.

The court refused to apply the Carpenter ruling retroactively, stating Thomas should have raised “such a high-profile issue” at trial. Even though the Carpenter decision is very recent, the issue of CSLI and the Fourth Amendment has been percolating for several years. Other courts have declined to exclude CSLI obtained without a warrant prior to the Carpenter ruling, if the information was collected in good faith.

The court also rejected Thomas’ claim that Blackwell’s testimony was excessively explicit and violated directives to not mention excluded evidence. The appellate court noted the “mountain of evidence” against Thomas and also observed the trial court had “done its best.” Further restrictions on the testimony, the court said, would have been “the judicial equivalent of editing a Quentin Tarantino movie to air on the Disney Channel.”

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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