The police use of secret tech to catch criminals means they sometimes have to allow them to escape punishment.
I’ve asked before who is running the fake cell towers. I’ve also reported on how the Feds are loaning tools to local law enforcement and then forbidding them to mention the use of the equipment in their prosecution of criminals.
Well now it has officially destroyed a prosecutor’s case.
According to the Washington Post, “Secrecy around police surveillance equipment proves a case’s undoing.”
The case against Tadrae McKenzie looked like an easy win for prosecutors. He and two buddies robbed a small-time pot dealer of $130 worth of weed using BB guns. Under Florida law, that was robbery with a deadly weapon, with a sentence of at least four years in prison.
But before trial, his defense team detected investigators’ use of a secret surveillance tool, one that raises significant privacy concerns. In an unprecedented move, a state judge ordered the police to show the device —a cell-tower simulator sometimes called a StingRay — to the attorneys.
Rather than show the equipment, the state offered McKenzie a plea bargain.
Today, 20-year-old McKenzie is serving six months’ probation after pleading guilty to a second-degree misdemeanor. He got, as one civil liberties advocate said, the deal of the century. (The other two defendants also pleaded guilty and were sentenced to two years’ probation.)
McKenzie’s case is emblematic of the growing, but hidden, use by local law enforcement of a sophisticated surveillance technology borrowed from the national security world. It shows how a gag order imposed by the FBI — on grounds that discussing the device’s operation would compromise its effectiveness — has left judges, the public and criminal defendants in the dark on how the tool works.
So does this mean that the police will stop using these devices? Or does it mean that they will pressure courts and legislatures to change the rules so that the use of these devices becomes more widespread?
We all want criminals caught and punished. But we don’t need our basic Fourth Amendment protections eroded even further!