United States v. Stimler, 2017 WL 3080866 (3rd Cir. 2017)
Using their collective authority to act as a beth din rabbinical court, a trio of Orthodox Jewish rabbis—Binyamin Stimler, Jay Goldstein and Mendel Epstein—authorized and carried out kidnappings and torture sessions for Jewish men who declined to divorce their wives. The rabbinical court orders, psak kefiah, authorize the use of force against a husband to coerce cooperation in the religious divorce proceedings.
Rabbi Stimler and his fellow clergy carried out the kidnappings and paid enforcers to conduct the torture and beatings. An undercover agent met with the three rabbis and claimed she needed help in persuading her husband to grant a divorce. Rabbi Epstein told the undercover agent, “What we’re doing is basically gonna be kidnapping a guy for a couple of hours and beatin’ him up and torturing him.” When the rabbis, the paid enforcers and the agent met to carry out the kidnapping, the rabbis were arrested.
The rabbis argued that prosecuting them for kidnapping and torture infringed on their free exercise of their religion. An expert witness, Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz, declared that it was religious commandment to use physical force against husbands who did not cooperate with the divorce process. The court disagreed, finding that the rabbis could worship without kidnapping and without hiring thugs to torture men who failed to obey their religious authority. Alternatively, the court held that the government has a compelling interest in thwarting kidnapping and that criminal prosecution was “the least restrictive way of achieving that interest.”
Although the case made headlines because it exposed little known beliefs and practices within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the case is also notable because it adds to the current dialog on cell site location information (CSLI). The prosecution used a court order issued under the Stored Communications Act to obtain CSLI. The CSLI placed Rabbi Goldstein’s phone at certain locations related to the charged crimes. The rabbis argued that the prosecution should have obtained a warrant. As have most other courts, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals held that no warrant was required because Rabbi Goldstein did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his CSLI. Thus, the CSLI evidence was admissible.
Just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal in United States v. Carpenter (819 F.3d 880 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, — S.Ct. —-, 2017 WL 2407484 (Mem) (June 5, 2017)). Before the end of the Court’s next term, the issue of whether the Fourth Amendment requires a search warrant for historical CSLI will be settled.