iPhone Tracking - Probable Cause


In the People v. Robinson, 32682013, NYLJ 1202753002450, at 1 (Sup., BX, Decided February 24, 2016) the defendant is charged, inter alia, with Robbery in the Second Degree, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, and related crimes. The real crux (and importance) of this case is that the police used an iPhone tracking system to find the alleged culprits.

The Court here evaluated a motion to suppress evidence. It is alleged that the Defendant and his accomplice, Atoine Ross, stole a couple of iPhones at gunpoint. The New York City Police Department were called to respond to address these alleged robberies and interviewed the victims. Evidently aware of this new technology, the officers asked the victims whether they installed a computer application “find my iPhone.” Indeed, it was and the officers utilized the application to find the perpetrators. The Officer (Krug) use his own phone to utilize the program and the phones were tracked to 106th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan. Officer’s approached and, although a gun was not immediately in sight, two iPhones were:

“Officer Hernandez observed two iPhones and a belt on the car floor. The officers did not find a gun on either Ross or Robinson. Officer Hernandez opened the unlocked glove box by the passenger seat. There was a loaded, silver, 25-caliber handgun in that glove box. Officer Krug found $14.00 inside the car as well.” Pp. 3.

In order to arrest for a crime without a warrant there must be probable, or in New York what is usually termed reasonable, cause to arrest. The Court recites the relevant standard:

In order for an individual to be charged with criminal possession of stolen property, there must be probable cause to believe that a person “possessed” property that the person “knew” to be stolen, with intent to benefit someone other than the owner of such property or to “impede the recovery by” the property’s owner. PL §165.40; see People v. Charles, 31 AD3d 657, 658 (2nd Dept 2006). A person in “recent, exclusive” and unexplained possession of the fruits of a crime, such as stolen property, permits the presumption to be drawn that the person in possession knew the items were stolen. People v. Baskerville, 60 NY2d 374, 38283 (1983); see People v. Galbo, 218 NY 283, 290 (1916). Pp. 4.

Here, clearly, there was a robbery reported and the two men arrested not only fit the description but had the two tracked iPhones. “While the police had little traditional information to track the perpetrators, they did have powerful technology available to assist them in locating the stolen property and perhaps apprehend the perpetrators.” Pp. 5. What about the unconventional means utilized by the police?

Surely you do not need to be the CEO of Apple or the FBI to understand that most cellular phones have tracking devices. “Armed with this information, the police had a legal and constitutional reason to trace that path, and find the phone. The fact that Officer Krug used his own phone to conduct the tracking is irrelevant; the defendant has no standing to challenge the tracking of Mr. Goode’s stolen iPhone.” See People v. Ladson, 298 AD2d 314, 315 (1st Dept 2002); People v. Hammond, 47 AD3d 644 (2nd Dept 2008); see also People v. Moorer, 39 Misc 3d 603, 606 609 (Monroe County Court 2013).

Not something that should go before a neutral magistrate (i.e. a warrant), the Court here provides that “[h]ad the phone been merely turned off, or its own apps somehow become encrypted by any additional technology installed by the manufacturer, its recovery would have been much more difficult.” Pp. 7. Perhaps in the future we will see a case with somewhat more sophisticated criminals….

The People v. Robinson, 32682013, NYLJ 1202753002450, at 1 (Sup., BX, Decided February 24, 2016).

Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, 631-450-2515 (NYS) (954) 998-2918 (FLA)


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