Judge E. Susan Garsh tossed undisclosed evidence that prosecutors were planning to use against Aaron Hernandez. The evidence, which was contained on two cell phones, an iPad and two iPad minis, was collected by state troopers from Hernandez’ North Attleborough home last year.
The evidence related to the case involving Odin L. Lloyd, who was murdered in June 2013. Hernandez is still set for a separate double-murder trial in May of 2015.
The state troopers in Lloyd's case secured a search warrant because of statements made by Hernandez. If you read my blog, you’ll know that Hopkins Rule #1 is, “Never Make A Statement. Ever.”
Hernandez made a statement: that he last saw Lloyd in Boston and that Lloyd’s address was saved in a GPS device. Hernandez' statement is prompted the state troopers to search his home for the GPS device and Lloyd's address, among other things.
The state troopers entered Hernandez’ home and took the five electronic devices that had GPS capabilities.
The judge stated that when the state troopers executed the search warrant at Hernandez’ home they “operated under the misimpression that the Search Warrant authorized the seizure of GPS devices when they seized the cell phones and tablets from Hernandez’s residence.”
A search warrant has three parts: 1) an affidavit, 2) an application, and 3) the search warrant.
The first step is for a law enforcement officer to prepare and sign an affidavit detailing exactly what needs to be searched. The second step is the application for the warrant, which is the document that actually asks the judge for a warrant. The affidavit supports the application. Those documents are typically attached to one another and contain identical language.
The final step is for a judge to review and sign a warrant that mirrors the language in the affidavit and application.
In Hernandez’ case, just about everything that could go wrong with the warrant process did go wrong.
First, after one officer prepared the affidavit, a separate officer prepared the application. The two documents didn’t match: the application omitted all information regarding the GPS devices. And whoever drew up the warrant itself also failed to include the language regarding the GPS devices.
The only place the GPS devices language was presented was in the affidavit, which normally would allow the police to search for that evidence. But in this case, the police failed to attach all three documents together with a staple. Yes, a staple.
The police attempted to circumvent that critical issue by testifying that all three documents were in a single folder and present at Hernandez’ home the entire time the search warrant was executed (the search actually carried out by the police).
Video of the search from a news channel used by Hernandez’ attorneys proved that officer's testimony to be a lie. The officer who testified that he was present with the three documents for the duration of the search was only present for a very short portion of the search—7 minutes and 7 seconds, to be exact. He left the scene shortly after arriving. And when he arrived, he didn't have a folder with the search warrant documents in his hands.
What Prompted Judge Garsh’s Ruling?
On June 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided Riley v. California. In Riley, the police stopped a guy for a routine traffic violation. During the stop, the police seized and searched his cell phone. On it, they found text messages, photos and videos that indicated Riley was part of a gang and involved in a shooting they were investigating.
The U.S. Supreme Court (Chief Justice Roberts) decided police may not search digital information on a cell phone without a warrant. The Court explained that because modern cell phones have “immense storage capacity” and are essentially “a digital record of nearly every aspect of [people’s] lives,” a specific warrant must be requested and granted before the search of a cell phone is justified.
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So in Hernandez’ case, the state troopers did obtain a warrant, but it was a faulty warrant. And without a legitimate warrant, the information contained in the two cell phones, iPad and two iPad minis won’t be available to the prosecutors.
The evidence on the cell phones and iPads could be crucial in Lloyd’s case because prosecutors are hinging their case on the theory that Hernandez masterminded the killing, not that he was necessarily the shooter.
And with phone calls, text messages and perhaps pictures and videos on the cell phones and iPads, the case against Hernandez could be strengthened. Without that evidence, whatever it may be, prosecutors will have to look elsewhere to prove Hernandez engineered the killing.