Johnathan David Garcia vs. State of Florida
This unanimous decision cancels an order from a lower court to force Garcia to provide his smartphone passcode to the State. The ruling reads:
"... the order under review requires that [Garcia] utilize the contents of his mind and disclose specific information ... that will likely lead to incriminating information that the State will then use against him at trial. We therefore conclude that the compelled disclosure of his passcode ... is protected by the Fifth Amendment."
Garcia appealed a lower court's order to provide his locked phone's passcode. He argues it violates his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The 5th amendment applies to incriminating "testimonial communication". This includes statements that could lead to finding incriminating evidence. The passcode itself is not incriminating, but unlocking the phone may lead to incriminating evidence. The Court finds that the passcode is protected "testimonial communication".
The State also argued that providing the passcode would fall under the “foregone conclusion” exemption. Meaning, it would not violate Garcia's rights because the State can prove it already knows the facts that will be discovered. This Court disagrees, saying it should not be exempt. The exemption normally applies to business or financial documents, and the ruling that created the "forgone conclusion" exemption suggests passcodes aren't included. Also, another ruling says the exemption was created for a "vastly different context". Including passcodes would reduce Constitutional rights.
When ordering Garcia to provide his passcode, the lower court referenced a 2016 2nd District of Appeal decision, State v. Stahl. Stahl decided that providing a passcode for a phone was non-testimonial. This Court has disagreed with the Stahl decision.
Because of the difference of opinion, this Court asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on the decisions. In June 2021, Justices Harris, Grosshans, and Lambert of the Florida Supreme Court sided with the 5th District decision. A passcode is considered testimonial and does not have to be provided to the State.
Garcia's ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend called the police after a window was broken at the boyfriend's home. The police found a smartphone outside the window. It was suspected and confirmed to be Garcia's phone. Later, the ex discovered a GPS tracker on her car, which allowed her car location to be tracked through a cell phone.
Garcia was charged with 2 counts of aggravated stalking and other related charges. Law enforcement got a search warrant for the smartphone found at the scene. They were looking for “contact/phone lists, call logs, [text] messages, MMS messages, and/or graphic or video files and/or other relevant data”.
To unlock the phone, the State requested that the court force Garcia to provide his passcode. They said the phone's contents will determine whether he is guilty. Garcia argued that providing the passcode would be like providing testimony. It would violate his 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The lower court sided with the State and ordered Garcia to provide the passcode.
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