Supreme Court of Georgia Rules that the Warrantless Search of Car Data is Unconstitutional
As noted in recent Georgia Supreme Court case Mobley v. State, a warrantless search of vehicle data is unconstitutional.*
By way of background, the plaintiff, a male, was operating a 2014 Dodge Charger on Flippen Road in Henry County, Georgia in December 2014. A 1999 Chevrolet Corvette pulled out onto Flippen Road and into the path of the Dodge Charger. The two vehicles collided and a violent crash occurred. The plaintiff was able to survive the accident but the two individuals in the Corvette tragically died. Based upon discussions with witnesses and a preliminary investigation of the scene, the police initially believed that the driver of the Corvette was responsible for the crash. However, a supervisor in the Traffic Division of Henry County ordered officers to retrieve any available data from the airbag control modules (ACM) of both the Chevrolet Corvette and the Dodge Charger.
A police investigator entered into the passenger side of both of the vehicles and used a specific device to download data from the ACMs. The data that was retrieved showed that the driver of the Dodge Charger, right before the accident, was operating his vehicle at about 100 miles per hour. There was no search warrant in force before the search was conducted.
In June of 2015, a jury from Henry County charged the driver of the Dodge Charger with two counts of vehicular homicide in the first-degree, speeding, and reckless driving as a result of the data retrieved in the search from the police. In response to these charges, the plaintiff, the driver of the Dodge Charger, filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the data that investigators received due to the fact that the search was conducted without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied the plaintiff's motion and allowed the evidence from the search in the plaintiff's trial.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Georgia agreed with the plaintiff, ruling that the warrantless search of car data following an accident violated the Fourth Amendment. In so concluding, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling and the trial court's ruling which were both against the motion to suppress the evidence.
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