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United States v. Chatrie

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  1. First Amendment

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Date Filed: Jan. 27, 2023

Background: While investigating a 2019 bank robbery in Midlothian, Virginia, law enforcement officials obtained a “geofence warrant” that helped them identify Okello Chatrie as a suspect. Geofence warrants allow law enforcement to obtain location data that captures information on all electronic devices within a particular area to help investigators solve crimes.

Chatrie, who was later charged with armed robbery, sought to suppress evidence gathered through the geofence warrant, arguing that the warrant violated the Constitution. The district court, however, denied Chatrie’s motion. Chatrie then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Our Position: The Fourth Circuit should reverse the denial of Chatrie’s motion to suppress.

  • Geofence warrants burden important First Amendment interests, including the integrity and confidentiality of the newsgathering process.
  • Geofence searches can be justified — if at all — only on the basis of a particularized warrant supported by individualized probable cause.

Quote: “Th[e] ability to cast a dragnet over any location, however sensitive — without the need for individualized suspicion to search each of the individuals swept up in it — poses an obvious threat to the integrity of the newsgathering process, and with it the freedom of the press.”

Related: Reporters Committee attorneys have previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in cases concerning location surveillance and the threat it poses to newsgathering and reporter-source confidentiality, including in Carpenter v. United States.

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