Court approves use of cell phone location data in homicide case

By Correy Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

BOSTON, MA -- The state could introduce testimony from a cell phone company radio frequency engineer that purported to place the defendant's cell phone in the area of a murder during the relevant time period, the Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled.

At the defendant's murder trial, the state sought to introduce evidence based on the location of his cell phone. A radio frequency engineer testified based on the cell phone company's records, which showed the vectors and the cell towers that were involved for every call or text message received by the defendant's phone.

The engineer explained he could map out the defendant's approximate location whenever there was an incoming and outgoing transmission, which placed the defendant in the area of the murder during the relevant time period.

The defendant tried to exclude the testimony, arguing that it lacked the proper foundation, but the court disagreed. The defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He appealed, but the court said that testimony was admissible.

"[The engineer] testified that the call detail records were regular business records of the company, that his company's systems automatically create a call detail record for each call (and how that occurs), and that those records are stored on the company's billing server. ... [The engineer] demonstrated personal knowledge of call detail records and how they are automatically generated. He explained that he received these particular records from other personnel in the company, that they were the call detail records for [the defendant's] cell phone number, and that they had been 'kept for business purposes,'" the court said.

It cited similar decisions from state courts in Florida, Minnesota and Nebraska, as well as from the 11th Circuit.

Iowa Court of Appeals. State v. Wright, No. 9-794. Jan. 22, 2010. Lawyers USA No. 993-1580.

Published: Fri, Feb 19, 2010

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