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Criminal Justice

Crucial evidence in 2014 murder excluded due to warrantless stingray use.

This week a Baltimore judge excluded crucial evidence in a woman’s 2014 murder because the evidence was obtained after the warrantless use of a stingray. This follows another ruling last month from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, holding that Maryland police must not only obtain a search warrant before using cell-site simulators, but also must explain to the judge what the device does and how it is used.

The case centers on the brutal murder of 34-year-old Ina Jenkins. As Justin Fenton reports for The Baltimore Sun, a homicide detective used a stingray to track down a cell phone that the victim had once used to call her relative. Police traced the phone to an apartment, whose occupant let them in; they recovered not only the phone, but also the victim’s blood. Her body was later found across the street.

The Baltimore police did have a court order to use the stingray, but it was a “pen-register” order allowing them to track the numbers dialed, not a search warrant. In tossing the evidence, Circuit Judge Yolanda Tanner noted that though she believed the police officers acted in good faith, following guidance from the police department and state’s attorney’s office, “[i]t was nonetheless an unconstitutional search … I can’t play the ‘what if’ game with the Constitution,” she said, noting that the Fourth Amendment protects individuals from illegal searches even where the defendant is “likely guilty.”

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