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United States v. Carpenter

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 11, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Timothy Ivory Carpenter, Defendant-Appellant.

          On Remand from the United States Supreme Court. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:12-cr-20218-4-Sean F. Cox, District Judge.

          Before: GUY, KETHLEDGE, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.



         This case returns on remand from the Supreme Court. In our prior opinion, the majority held that the Government's warrantless collection of Timothy Ivory Carpenter's cell-site location information (CSLI) did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court disagreed. The unconstitutionality of the Government's search was not clear until after the Supreme Court reversed our decision, which leads us to the question of whether the FBI agents who obtained Carpenter's CSLI acted in good faith. Because these agents reasonably relied on the Stored Communications Act (SCA), we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. CSLI and the SCA

         We begin with the basics of CSLI and the related legal framework. CSLI refers to the time-stamped location records generated each time a wireless device communicates with a carrier's network by connecting to the nearest antenna, known as a "cell site." Carpenter v. United States (Carpenter II), 138 S.Ct. 2206, 2211 (2018). As cell phone usage has become ubiquitous, cell sites have proliferated. Id. Each new cell site, in turn, enhances the precision of cell phone owners' CSLI. Even in the time elapsed between Carpenter's trial and the Supreme Court's decision in Carpenter II, CSLI had "rapidly approach[ed] GPS-level precision." Id. at 2219; see also id. ("[W]ith new technology measuring the time and angle of signals hitting their towers, wireless carriers already have the capability to pinpoint a phone's location within 50 meters.").

         The imminent launch of fifth-generation wireless technology, known as 5G, promises to multiply the number of cell sites in this country. Wireless networks once designed to carry cell phone traffic will soon support an unprecedented number of devices connected across industries, including autonomous vehicles, smart homes, wearable devices, industrial machinery, and drones. See Jill C. Gallagher & Michael E. DeVine, Cong. Research Serv., R45485, Fifth-Generation (5G) Telecommunications Technologies: Issues for Congress 2-6 (2019). To handle all the wireless data transmitted by these new technologies, carriers must greatly increase the number of cell sites nationwide. Verizon, for example, recently estimated that upgrading the nation's wireless infrastructure to prepare for 5G will require "100 times more antenna locations than currently exist," and AT&T projected "that providers will deploy hundreds of thousands of wireless facilities in the next few years alone-equal to or more than the number providers have deployed in total over the last few decades." In the Matter of Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Inv., F.C.C. No. 18-133, 2018 WL 4678555, at *17 (Sept. 27, 2018).

         Against the backdrop of this new era of connected devices, § 2703(d) of the SCA-a provision first drafted 25 years ago-permits law enforcement to obtain certain records of a person's wireless communications whenever the government "offers specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe" the records sought "are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." See Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, Pub. L. No. 103-414, 108 Stat. 4279, 4292 (1994). Unlike other provisions of the SCA, the court-ordered production mechanism in § 2703(d) does not require law enforcement to get a warrant before acquiring these records. Compare 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) with id. § 2703(a), (c)(1)(A). In this case, the Government collected Carpenter's CSLI under § 2703(d); it did not obtain a warrant.

         B. Factual and Procedural History

         Because we and the Supreme Court summarized the facts of this case in prior decisions, see Carpenter II, 138 S.Ct. at 2211-13; United States v. Carpenter (Carpenter I), 819 F.3d 880, 884-85 (6th Cir. 2016), we focus on the information most relevant to the analysis on remand. First, a housekeeping matter: Carpenter I addressed the consolidated appeals of both Carpenter and a codefendant, Timothy Michael Sanders, see 819 F.3d at 884, but only Carpenter sought Supreme Court review. Carpenter limited his petition for certiorari to the question of whether the Fourth Amendment permits the warrantless acquisition of CSLI, see Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Carpenter II, 138 S.Ct. 2206 (No. 16-402), and did not include the other grounds for appeal that he raised (and we rejected) in Carpenter I, see 819 F.3d at 890-93. We adopt Carpenter I's treatment of those issues not considered in Carpenter II. Our task here is only to apply the Supreme Court's Fourth Amendment analysis to Carpenter's case.

         A federal jury convicted Carpenter of robbery and gun charges after he and others committed a string of robberies in Michigan and Ohio between 2010 and 2012. During its investigation, the Government sought court orders under § 2703(d) for Carpenter's CSLI. In response to the Government's applications, two magistrate judges ordered Carpenter's wireless carriers to provide "the locations of cell/site sector (physical addresses) for the target telephones at call origination and at call termination for incoming and outgoing calls." Carpenter II described the scope of the CSLI turned over by Carpenter's carriers:

The first order sought 152 days of cell-site records from MetroPCS, which produced records spanning 127 days. The second order requested seven days of CSLI from Sprint, which produced two days of records covering the period when Carpenter's phone was "roaming" in northeastern Ohio. Altogether the Government obtained 12, 898 location points cataloging Carpenter's movements-an average of 101 data points per day.

138 S.Ct. at 2212. Carpenter joined Sanders's motion in limine to suppress the cell phone data, which the ...

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