Cell Phone Data Leading to Wrongful Convictions

Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ September 10, 2014

The story of Lisa Roberts is a sad one which has unfortunately been repeated too often across the country. Roberts was arrested in 2002 under suspicion of strangling a prostitute in Portland, Oregon. She plead guilty to Murder after the prosecutor told her that her location at the time of the Murder could be pinpointed to the area where it happened using cell phone GPS data, and she received a 15 year sentence. After serving 12 years in prison, Roberts’ guilty plea was thrown out and she walked out of prison without a criminal record.

Lisa Roberts was freed because her location could not be pinpointed using her phone’s GPS data. All the GPS data could do was show that Roberts was in a general area. To pinpoint Roberts’ exact location, prosecutors would need the GPS data from 3 different towers to triangulate her position. Sometimes, two phones in the same location will connect to two different cell phone towers, depending on the thickness of nearby foliage and walls and how well the phone itself is working. Yet this incomplete data is used frequently by prosecutors in order to build their cases. In 2013, AT&T alone was served with 37,839 subpoenas. Larry Daniel of Guardian Digital Forensics, a consultant for prosecutors and defense attorneys, found errors in nearly half of the 240 cases he has worked on.

If you have questions or concerns about the way GPS data is being used in your case, contact an attorney at Fairlie & Lippy today.


Source: http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21615622-junk-science-putting-innocent-people-jail-two-towers?frsc=dg%7Cb

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