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Criminal Law: Florida City’s Law Enforcement Relying Upon Skype and Email to Obtain Warrants

I am still uncertain of what to make of this.  Apparently, police in Palm Bay, a medium-sized town located in Brevard County, Florida (Brevard County also being the location of Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy), are using email and Skype to obtain warrants — while still on the scene.  There are obvious advantages for law enforcement attempting to securing probable cause for a search and/or arrest.

Yet, speaking in the role of a criminal defense attorney, I am troubled by this device — will this be used as a device for police officers to evade the need for real detail in any warrant affidavit?  Probable cause is certainly not the highest of standards to overcome, yet it does possess some real teeth.  Will judges shortchange constitutional rights for an affidavit that fails to support probable cause? Arguably, this may already occur with traditional warrant requests (depending upon who you speak with, and about which particular judge).

As an attorney who has spent his share of hours on crime scenes, I can at least state my impression of the ability of law enforcement to achieve a sufficient showing for probable cause.  Crime scenes can be chaotic, inundated by other officers and, at various times, simply too frantic a setting for a law enforcement officer to be given the necessary concentration to fulfilling the requirements for an affidavit stating probable cause.  I recall one situation involving reverse sting operations where the case agents were simply too busy to right up even initial incident reports, and where the agency resorted instead to ‘fill in the blank’ reports — with the affidavits to be completed later (at times, days later) by the case agents.  Is it possible that these short-cuts would sacrifice not only an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights but also, depending upon the situation, place the individual law enforcement officer into a precarious position with prosecutors, judges and even their own command for the failure to effectively state probable cause for a warrant?

Acknowledgment to ABAJournal.com, and FourthAmendment.com.

ABAJournal.com: Police in Fla. Town Use Email and Skype to Obtain Warrants While Still on the Scene, linking to Florida Today’s Palm Bay police use Skype in DUI cases. From the latter:

Palm Bay detectives are using an Internet communications tool to create a high-tech way of getting official testimony to swear out warrants faster.

The method, using the popular online service Skype, helps officers in the field obtain blood search warrants in suspected DUI cases. Skype software allows video conferencing and phone calls over the Internet.

“When it comes to impairment, time is of the essence,” Cpl. Morgan said in a statement.

“The goal is get the most accurate capture of evidence closest to the time of the incident and our experience using Skype helps us do that.”

I’ve been advocating this over telephonic warrants for a long time. Most medium size cities and above have full computer links in police cars just for communication with dispatch, and they use digital radio or broadband. E-mail really helps eliminate errors in telephone recording and scope of warrants. Skype can record the transmission for litigation.

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