Last Thursday, Lawyer Kristen Brown argued that a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy violated her client’s constitutional rights when he failed to obtain a search warrant prior to using data from his cellphone GPS to locate and arrest him.
She argued that her client, Michael Meisler, had his Fourth Amendment rights violated when the investigators went to his cellphone provider to obtain information on his location in order to arrest him. The Fourth Amendment protects against illegal searches, and the search was performed without having a warrant.
Meisler is a disbarred lawyer and has previously been convicted for stalking. The warrant for his arrest was based on charges of stalking an ex-girlfriend and her 17-year-old son. Current federal and state laws allow police to use cellphone information, including GPS tracking, without a warrant in cases when someone is either lost (such as a kidnapping) or someone is in imminent danger.
Brown did not feel that this requirement was met, and argued that the text messages sent to the ex-girlfriend, Janice Tebo, did not meet the level that would allow his records to be checked with no warrant. According to Brown, the texts where meant more to make her life miserable than actual threats to her safety. Brown also argued that when the investigator got an arrest warrant, she should have asked the judge for the search warrant as well.
The Court will rule on the case sometime during the next 60 to 90 days, according to Justice Jim Hardesty.
This case is the first in Nevada that involves police using cellphones without obtaining warrants. There have been other similar cases in the United States, with some states ruling the practice as legal and others finding the warrant necessary.
The chief Douglas County deputy district attorney, Thomas Gregory, argued that the investigator had plenty of reason to obtain the cellphone GPS information quickly in order to arrest Meisler. Meisler was sentenced to spend four to twelve years in prison for his stalking of Tebo and her son, which he is currently serving in Lovelock State Prison. This is his appeal of that conviction, and the hearing on Thursday was to present arguments for it.
Gregory also argued that the texts to Tebo consisted of threats of imminent danger.
The hearing was held at the Jeanne Dini Cultural Center in front of 65 government students from Yerington High School. The Nevada Supreme Court holds oral arguments in rural Nevada on a periodic basis. Three of the student who were in attendance at the hearing thought that Tebo did face imminent danger, and that the police therefore did not need to have a search warrant to get the cellphone information.