TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA) – A South Florida appeals court said Wednesday that a minor who was driving a car involved in a fatal crash does not have to turn over iPhone passcodes to police.
A panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a decision by a Broward County circuit judge that would have forced the minor, identified only by the initials G.A.Q.L, to provide passcodes for his phone and an iTunes account.
The ruling, which gave a brief description of the underlying case, said the minor was speeding when he was involved in a crash that killed one of his passengers.
A blood test at the hospital showed the minor had a .086 blood-alcohol level, and another passenger said they had been drinking vodka earlier in the day, the ruling said.
Police obtained a warrant to search the driver’s iPhone because the surviving passenger said she had communicated with him through texts and Snapchat.
Attorneys for the minor, however, argued that being forced to turn over passcodes would violate his 5th Amendment right against being required to testify against himself.
A trial judge, however, rejected those arguments, in part finding that the passwords were not “testimonial in and of themselves,” Wednesday’s ruling said. But the appeals court overruled the circuit judge.
“Here, the state seeks the phone passcode not because it wants the passcode itself, but because it wants to know what communications lie beyond the passcode wall,” said an opinion written by Judge Spencer Levine and joined by Judge Cory Ciklin.
“If the minor were to reveal this passcode, he would be engaging in a testimonial act utilizing the ‘contents of his mind’ and demonstrating as a factual matter that he knows how to access the phone.
As such, the compelled production of the phone passcode or the iTunes password here would be testimonial and covered by the Fifth Amendment.”
Judge Jeffrey Kuntz agreed with the result reached by Levine and Ciklin but wrote a concurring opinion that used different reasoning. Police wanted the iTunes passcode because of a need for a software update, Levine wrote.