William Montanez was thrown in jail after trying but failing to remember the passcode to unlock his two smartphones, prompting his attorney to accuse the judge of denying the man due process.
On June 21, Montanez was pulled over for not yielding properly. While he did not give officers permission to search his car, they brought in a K-9 unit. A drug-sniffing dog eventually led the officers to the discovery of a small amount of marijuana.
Officers then asked Montanez to let them see his phones, but he refused, prompting detectives to get a warrant.
Montanez then took the case to court, challenging the warrant.
Patrick Leduc, the man’s attorney, said that officers are overreaching.
"There is no information that the state can show, until I can challenge the warrant itself, that says, ‘Hey, what’s on these two cell phones are directly related to a possession of misdemeanor marijuana,’" he said.
Prosecutor Tony Falcone disagreed, saying that the warrant was justified.
"I think it’s appropriate the court order the defendant to show cause,” he said.
After the debate, Judge Gregory Holder ordered Montanez to unlock his phones, ruling that officers could look into the devices. When the electronics were brought to the court, Montanez reportedly failed to unlock both.
"I don't know the code, sir,” he said, explaining that the phones were new and that he didn’t remember their codes. Holder then threw him in jail for being in civil contempt.
If Montanez is able to remember the passwords, then the judge said he’s free to leave jail. If not, he could remain locked up for six months.
"Basically, my client has been denied his liberty today without due process," Leduc said.
To Leduc, this development shows just how easy it is for law enforcement to obtain access to cellphones even if they have absolutely no relevance to that particular case.
"If they arrest you for anything — whether it’s drugs, guns, you name it — and an electronic device is nearby, they can get a search warrant and search it. And if you don't provide that information to search it, to unlock, because you want to keep the information private, we'll put you in jail," Leduc explained.
It's terrifying to realize a citizen's privacy could be threatened for an unrelated activity. Even more, this case demonstrates how easily Americans' Fourth Amendment rights can be violated.