Supreme Judicial Court Rules Cell Phone Conversations Can Be Used In Court

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — Be careful what you text because your words could be used against you. The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that what you send to someone else can be used in court.

A Massachusetts man, Jorge Delgado-Rivera, had his phone used against him in a criminal case. Delgado-Rivera allegedly sent a text to someone in Texas in 2016 about illegal drug shipments.

He was one of seven men facing charges for bringing cocaine from Mexico to Texas and then later to Massachusetts.

In the investigation, police in Texas searched the recipient's phone and sent it to police in Massachusetts.

While a judge in Middlesex Superior Court stated that Delgado-Rivera's texts should not be used against him, the state's highest court concluded Tuesday they could be.

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The Supreme Judicial Court believed if his messages were across networks, then his privacy rights are lost.

Any purported expectation of privacy in sent text messages of this type is significantly undermined by the ease with which these messages can be shared with others. In addition to simply displaying the message to another, as would be possible with non electronic, written forms of communication, a recipient also can forward the contents of the message to hundreds or thousands of people at once, or post a message on social media for anyone with an Internet connection to view. See, e.g., Patino, 93 A.3d at 56 n.21 ("We can think of no media more susceptible to sharing or dissemination than a digital message, such as a text message or email, which vests in the recipient a digital copy of the message that can be forwarded to or shared with others at the mere click of a button"). Thus, Delgado-Rivera had no reasonable expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment in the text messages at issue because, once they were delivered, Garcia-Castaneda, as the recipient, gained "full control of whether to share or disseminate the sender's message." Id. at 56. The technology used by Delgado-Rivera to communicate with Garcia-Castaneda effectively facilitated this transfer of control.

This ruling applies to all plain-text messages under Article 14: Every subject has a right to be secure from all unreasonable searches, and seizures, of his person, his houses, his papers, and all his possessions. All warrants, therefore, are contrary to this right, if the cause or foundation of them be not previously supported by oath or affirmation; and if the order in the warrant to a civil officer, to make search in suspected places, or to arrest one or more suspected persons, or to seize their property, be not accompanied with a special designation of the persons or objects of search, arrest, or seizure: and no warrant ought to be issued but in cases, and with the formalities prescribed by the laws.

WBZ NewsRadio's Carl Stevens reports:

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