Cell phone records are apparently important in murder case Middlesex County, Massachusetts. (Disclosure: I used to work for the Middlesex DA office.)
The case apparently involves a drug deal gone bad. Three men, aged 17 to 21, allegedly lured a man to a parking lot for a drug deal, then shot him during while attempting to rob him. Lots of media coverage on this – mostly because one of the defendants is a high school student. See the Boston Globe here and here, for example.
According to recent news reports, the defense is attempting to prevent prosecutors from obtaining the defendants' cell phone records, including phone numbers dialed, calls received, cell tower locations, and signaling information. The DA believes that the cell phone records will demonstrate that the defendants communicated in order to plan the crime.
The defense is arguing that the records may not be obtained without a warrant, and suggested that "cell phones are 'essential' to a person's existence."
However, the judge seemed skeptical. He responded to a defense claim that people would not know that cell phones could be used to track movements with this question: "Is there anybody left in America who doesn't know that? When you use an electronic device, it leaves a trail?"
This case seems to present a situation where the Fourth Amendment is not implicated. Even if the defendants are correct, the government is apparently only seeking records about a discrete period of time in order to investigate a specific crime. The cell phone records, therefore, are not likely to reveal intimate details about any of the defendants' lives. In my view, that does not trigger the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. See here for more links and some further thoughts on this.