WASHINGTON DC – The U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared sympathetic to a Detroit resident whose cell phone records, obtained without a warrant, were used against him in trial.

However, the justices also appeared uncertain about a decision that arguably could affect every citizen’s privacy rights, according to a transcript of the Wednesday hearing in the case of Timothy Ivory Carpenter v. United States.

“This is an open box,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “We know not where we go.”

Carpenter was sentenced to 116 years in prison for his role in a string of cell phone store robberies in Michigan and Indiana. The cell phone records – which covered 127 days – showed his phone pinged on cell towers in the vicinity of the robberies.

He appealed, arguing the cell phone records couldn’t be used at trial because they were obtained without a warrant. He eventually appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled 2-1 that no warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment.

Nathan Wessler, who represents Carpenter, said the government’s warrantless collection of his client’s cell site location information, which reveals his movements and associations over a long period of time, “disturbs people’s long-standing, practical expectation that their longer-term movements in public and private spaces will remain private.”

Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben argued the case hinges on how the government gets the information. He said it is the cellphone providers who create the records for their own purposes and who gave it to the government.

This government update was provided by the Small Business Association of Michigan. To learn more, click on https://www.sbam.org/