If You Want Privacy, Put A Ring On It? RI Supreme Court Rules No Expectation of Privacy in Text Messages on Girlfriend’s Phone

Being all of 36, I’m not down with the young’uns and their “hippety-hop” and “texting”. But I glanced up from my afternoon’s abacus calculations of the expected height of the Nile floods and saw that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has declared that a criminal defendant has no expectation of privacy in “text messages” that they send to another party (viz. a girlfriend with which said defendant had a daughter), and that police found when they searched said girlfriend’s “telephone.”

If they had been married, presumably the law would recognize a spousal communications privilege. But gee whillikers, it’s 2014, not 2064, and staunchly Catholic Rhode Island will be blowed if it starts making exceptions for mere “girlfriends”. If you wanted privacy, then you should have PUT A RING ON IT.

Beyonce has nothing on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Beyonce has nothing on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Michael Patino, the Providence Journal reports, is accused of murdering a son he had by a prior girlfriend. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled certain kinds of evidence inadmissible – a confession that was the fruit of a coercive interrogation, and evidence from the warrantless search of Patino’s own phone.

Once again, then, the police got themselves in a heap of trouble by not going through the (fairly trivial) process of obtaining a warrant – something that, in the context of a child murder investigation, would almost certainly have been given – and now want the courts to correct a defect that arises from their unwillingness to dot the is. How much has this case cost the state, when simply obtaining a warrant would have removed any ground for Patino to object and would have made it more likely that justice would be done?

This is what I don’t get about warrants. Warrants are almost never refused. They’re simply an external check that the police are doing what they should. Yet police departments fight warrants tooth and nail, and act like the Apocalypse will come if they have any external oversight of their work. The truth is that in this country, we sometimes very literally let police get away with murder, even when caught on video. Officers routinely break the laws they expect the rest of us to follow. City governments are terrified of offending their police chiefs, and those who do offend them sometimes risk their lives.

So the question is not whether oversight is already so onerous that a little more of it will lead to a crime wave. The question is whether we allow to grow up in our midst an unaccountable paramilitary force able to hold our civilian government to ransom.

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