Cell Tower Data Should Be Scientific Evidence, Court Finds

For the professional edge in your day-to-day practice, rely on the most timely, objective reporting on significant developments, trends, and emerging patterns in criminal law today—Criminal Law...

By Jessica DaSilva

Law enforcement analyzing cell tower data should be introduced as an expert witness and have its work determined by a court to be scientifically sound before admitting the information as evidence, the Connecticut Supreme Court found ( State v. Edwards , 2017 BL 103410, Conn., No. SC 19735, 4/11/17 ).

The average juror doesn’t understand cell phone data, the court said in its majority opinion to be released April 11.

That’s why officers testifying about the likely locations of defendants based on which towers their cell phones contacted during a crime should be reviewed as expert testimony, the opinion said.

Two cases played an important role in the state Supreme Court’s decision finding that the trial court improperly admitted cell phone tower evidence in the case of a man convicted of multiple charges relating to a home invasion.

At trial, the court conducted a hearing to ensure that the data analysis the officer used in this case was sound under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals instead of State v. Porter.

Daubert sets the national standard for determining whether scientific evidence is sound, but Porter provides a specific list of factors for Connecticut judges to consider when conducting a Daubert analysis. In other words, Connecticut judges must take specific steps in deciding the reliability and relevance of scientific evidence before admitting it.

Defendant Eugene Edwards Jr. was convicted of home invasion, robbery, assaulting an elderly person and larceny. The victim, a woman, was robbed in her attached garage after Edwards followed her home from a grocery store.

Despite the error in admitting the cell tower evidence, the court found it harmless in light of other overwhelming evidence, including fingerprints left on the woman’s car door that matched Edwards.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica DaSilva in Washington at jdasilva@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Try Criminal Law Reporter