How a Picture of a Kid Peeing Turned Into a Victory for Cell Phone-Privacy Rights in Texas

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Anthony Granville didn't set out to strike a blow for privacy rights on the fateful day in November 2010 when he snapped a cell-phone photo in a boy's restroom at Huntsville High School. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to prosecutors, Granville's photo, taken without the subject's permission, showed another student urinating.

When he was told of the photo, Huntsville High school resource officer Everett Harrell recognized it as a potential case of improper photography, a state jail felony. He just needed the picture to prove it.

Harrell got his chance the next day when Granville was booked into the county lockup on an unrelated charge of causing a disturbance on a school bus. He drove to the jail, retrieved Granville's cell phone from the property room, and printed a copy of the picture.

Had Harrell first gotten a warrant, the case against Granville could have been a slam dunk, but he didn't think he needed to. Neither did the prosecutor.

"I think if you're in the Walker County jail you have no expectation of privacy in the personal effects that you had on you at the time that you were arrested," she said. That applies whether the matter in question is something dug from pants pockets or from a search through the cell phone.

The trial judge sided with the defense and barred the image from being introduced as evidence. So, prosecutors appealed to an appeals court in Amarillo, which, in the course of upholding the judge's ruling, penned an epically terrible history of the cell phone that reads as if the justices are mimicking entry-level copywriters channeling third-rate sci-fi hacks:

Forty years ago the average person could only dream of having a device that allowed individuals to walk about talking with whomever they chose. As with many dreams, this one grew to reality. The younger generation most likely know little of the multi-pound instrument carried in a bag and slung over one's shoulder. Those devices eventually gave way to lighter, but nonetheless bulky, instruments often seen in television shows of the 1980s, like "Seinfeld." As the years went by, the mechanism came to look like the equipment Captain Kirk would flip open in the science fiction show "Star Trek" and command Scotty to "beam me up." And, much like the transponder of "Star Trek" fame, cell phones of today are small enough to be easily carried or hidden in pockets and purses.

Interestingly, though, while phones shrank in size, they expanded in versatility and technology. No longer are people limited to simply calling others over the airwaves. They now permit their owners to do much, much more. Indeed they liken to mini-computers or laptops, capable of opening, in many respects, the world to those possessing them. In addition to seeking out information deemed important to its owner, cell phones have the capability of memorializing personal thoughts, plans, and financial data, facilitating leisure activities, pursuing personal relationships, an the like. Due to the abundance of programs or "apps" available, users also have the ability to personalize their phone; it is not far fetched to conclude that a stranger can learn much about the owner, his thought processes, family affairs, friends, religious and political beliefs, and financial matters by simply perusing through it. That such matters are intrinsically private cannot be reasonably doubted. The importance and private nature of such information has also led to the development of passwords, encrypt programs, and like security measures to prevent its disclosure. Given this, we cannot but hold that a person (whose category encompasses Granville) has a general, reasonable expectation of privacy in the data contained in or accessible by his cell, now "smart" phone.

Prosecutors were unmoved, both by the appellate court's prose and the involvement of outside groups like the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and ACLU. They promptly appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's ultimate authority in criminal matters, which handed down its decision on Wednesday.

In an 8-1 decision, the court joined the two lower courts in ruling that cops need a warrant to search a suspect's cell phone.

"[W]e reject its argument that a modern-day cell phone is like a pair of pants or a bag of groceries for which a person loses all privacy protection once it is checked into a jail property room," they write in their opinion.

People have a reasonable expectation that the information on their cell phones is private, even when they are booked into jail. Just like the documents in a filing cabinet at a person's home, the information on a cell phone is protected from warrantless searches by the Fourth Amendment.

The argument advanced by prosecutor, essentially that "when a citizen is arrested for any offense, such as failing to wear a seat belt, everything that the person possessed at the time of that arrest -- purse, briefcase, laptop computer, cell phone, medical records, IRS returns, trade secret information -- is subject to a warrantless search," does not withstand much scrutiny, they write.

That's not to say that taking pictures of people urinating is OK. It's still really creepy, and it's still illegal. It's just that anyone who does take such pictures would be wise to delete them before the cops can get a warrant.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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30 comments
RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

"... that reads as if the justices are mimicking entry-level copywriters channeling third-rate sci-fi hacks."

In other words, they write like you.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

these pigs dont give a damn about your constitutional rights..unless you have access to about 25-30 k in cash at all times for a "decent" attorney..you have no fucking rights

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

As I understand it, there are no 4th amendment rights in relation to electronic devices within 100 miles of the US border, that's just a few dozens of million folks though, no biggie.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

The Republican administration is fighting one hell of a fight to protect the privacy rights of sexual predators.


uppercasematt
uppercasematt

"It's just that anyone who does take such pictures would be wise to delete them before the cops can get a warrant."  


A person commits an offense if the person: (1) knowing that an offense has been committed, alters, destroys, or conceals any record, document, or thing with intent to impair its verity, legibility, or availability as evidence in any subsequent investigation of or official proceeding related to the offense...


Way to encourage a felony.

gangstead1
gangstead1

If he had a smart phone a password would have prevented all of this

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@paulpsycho78

There is no constitutional right to take pictures of children using the toilet.


Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

"I fucking hate Old Jewish white men." ---Ruddski, 11.6.2013

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

@bvckvs  So you are saying an accused yet unconvicted person loses certain rights because the crime that the person is only suspected of having committed is heinous? ummm.... OK.

veruszetec
veruszetec

@bvckvs  You're really grasping for straws, there, aren't you? I'm not a fan of the administration either, but come on.

James080
James080 topcommenter

@bvckvs  

Read the story. It has nothing to do with privacy rights of sexual predators. It is a story about due process and protection from illegal search and seizure. Of course being a brain dead Obama liberal, you probably see the Federal Constitution and Bill of Rights as obstacles to a socialist police state, instead of providing protection for individual against an overreaching government. The second amendment exists, and is necessary, due to people just like you.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@gangstead1  the really smart people in a police force are the forensics guys back at the station, and if they want something, they will find a way to hack into any electronic device.  

wilme2
wilme2

@gangstead1  Not if the police really wanted to get the data.  Passwords aren't much protection, really.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

@bvckvs @paulpsycho78 Just because your for warrantless search and seizures and the extrapolation of the police state doesn't mean everyone is.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

@PlanoDave

Just consider Kaufmann as an excellent and revered spokesperson for Progressive ideals. He's very popular in that regard due to his courage in speaking what many progressives believe, but are too reserved to voice.

He's considered THE voice of a Dallas-Area liberalism. Though few will admit it for obvious reasons, they have jobs and reputations to protect. Sanders has no such baggage.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@JohnSmallBerries @bvckvs

Those comments just serve to underscore my point - that Libertarian Republicans are very passionate about their right to commit sex crimes.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@veruszetec @bvckvs

No, unfortunately, it's not a pithy comment.  It's straight-up and matter of fact.

One of the fundamental beliefs of the Libertarian fringe of the Republican party is that the government has no right to criminalize sexual activity between adults and minors.

During the Duck Dynasty mess last year, the preacher in that family spoke in favor of old men "marrying" pubescent teenagers, Afterward, he attended the State of the Union gathering as a guest of Rep. McAllister.


bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@James080 @bvckvs

Read the story - it was about the privacy rights of a sexual predator.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

@ScottsMerkin @gangstead1Passwords like Padlocks keep  honest people honest.


My real questions about the picture start  with this paragraph 



When he was told of the photo, Huntsville High school resource officer Everett Harrell recognized it as a potential case of improper photography, a state jail felony. He just needed the picture to prove it.

Harrell got his chance the next day  ------->when<----------------Granville was booked into the county lockup on an unrelated charge of causing a disturbance on a school bus. He drove to the jail, retrieved Granville's cell phone from the property room, and printed a copy of the picture.


Kind funny how that happened when the police officer needed it to wow  is this kid some kind major moving disturbance ?

gangstead1
gangstead1

@wilme2 to a highschool cop who wanders over to the evidence room it's good enough.


Do you bother to lock your car when anyone could bust the window open?


@ScotsMerkin

I don't think the CSI guys are trying to get pee pee pics off of some kid's phone.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@paulpsycho78 @bvckvs

That's a very passionate defense - of a man taking pictures of children using the toilet.  Do you have any arguments against such behavior?


bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@RTGolden1 @bvckvs@JohnSmallBerries

It's funny when anti-federalists who call themselves Libertarian, say they're nothing like the anti-federalists who call themselves Republican.


RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bvckvs @JohnSmallBerriesYou obviously know nothing about the Libertarian point of view.  That you equate it with the Republican point of view is evidence enough of the shallow depth of your understanding.  Only Republicans and moron liberals think there is any connection between real libertarianism and the Rep party.

First off, both the offender and the victim of the crime in THIS story are school kids, so this rant you've spun yourself off into has no relevance to the story or case at hand.  Secondly, from a libertarian point of view, any adult who violates the innocence of a child should be dealt with extremely severely, preferably at the hands of the father of said child.

Go back to playing with shiny objects.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

@bvcks

If you know anything about American history, you know that in the time of Robertson's youth, especially in the a South, and most especially in the Appalachia, fourteen was a common age for women to wed. In fact, that custom exists to this day, albeit lessened.

Your misrepresentation of Libertarian position regarding sex is quite frankly, nuts. Libertarians are against all laws prohibiting or discriminating against the LGBT community. The libertarian position on GM pre-dated the democrat party position by forty years.

There is no position whatsoever on minors, as you claim. You are lying.

But of course, we are familiar with your trolling, and your rationale for doing so, which is to give sane people the opportunity to rebut what fringe characters such as yourself try to promote as truth.

Your willingness to literally play the fool regardless of how it affects you professionally or personally is very admirable. Very few people are so willing to figuratively dance naked on the tabletop with lampshade headgear to advance truth at such personal cost.

Libertarians thank you for your sacrifice.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

@wcvemail They can.  They are not allowed.  Their jobs are more important to them that whatever it is that you want off the phone.

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