The written opinion, released by the judges last week (.pdf), is also important for a few other reasons: The judges upheld a lower court’s decision to suppress evidence gathered with the help of the stingray, and they strongly rebuked the Baltimore police for concealing their use of the stingray from a judge when they applied for a court order to track the suspect.
Judges have been reluctant in the past to suppress evidence in cases where questions about Fourth Amendment protections were still unresolved at the time the evidence was collected. But the decision to do so in this case, despite the lack of a clear constitutional resolution when the evidence was collected, sends a potent warning to federal and local law enforcement agencies around the country: Deception around the use of stingrays is tantamount to judicial fraud and could cost them convictions, experts say.
“This is the first appellate opinion in the country to fully address the question of whether police must disclose their intent to use a cell site simulator to a judge and obtain a probable cause warrant,” says Nathan Wessler, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
The ruling is significant for another big reason—it, and other stingray cases expected to pop up in its wake, could ultimately push the issue to the Supreme Court, something civil liberties groups have been wanting since stingrays first came to public attention in 2011 with the Daniel Rigmaiden case.