You have the right to remain silent in court, but is it possible for things inside your own body to serve as evidence against you? A court in Ohio recently ruled that medical devices such as pacemakers can be used against you in court. Needless to say, defense lawyers in San Diego and the rest of the country believe this is a dangerous legal precedent to set and that this opinion needs to be appealed and overturned as soon as possible.
The incident in question started in 2016, when Ross Compton’s home burned down, causing $400,000 in damage. Ross claimed he woke up to find the house on fire and was able to pack a few bags with his possessions, take his computer and his medical device charger before escaping through a window. Fire investigators discovered multiple ignition sites for the fire, so they suspected arson. Ross’ statements to fire officials at the scene differed from what he told investigators later and his story seemed inconsistent with the evidence available, so he became a suspect in the crime.
After police learned Ross used a pacemaker, they obtained a warrant for the data on the device to see how his heartbeat differed before, during and after the fire. The data conflicted with Ross’ story, showing he was wide awake before the fire, when he claimed to be sleeping. Now this information will be used against him along with other evidence during his upcoming trial for arson and insurance fraud.
This is the first time police have used a warrant for a pacemaker and while prosecutors argue that police have used warrants for other personal medical information such as blood samples and medical records, Ross’ defense attorney along with criminal lawyers from San Diego and the rest of the country worry this is an unreasonable and chilling invasion of privacy. While cases have been built based on information from Fitbits and other smart devices, in this case police essentially police obtained a warrant to see the suspect’s heart rate. Privacy rights advocates and defense lawyers do not believe a person should lose privacy related to their bodily functions simply because they had to get a pacemaker or other medical device to survive. Unfortunately, the judge in the case sided with the prosecutors and the pacemaker’s data will be used as evidence in the trial if his lawyer is unable to overturn the decision through the appeals process before the trial begins.
The scariest part of this decision is that since Ross was arrested, police in Ohio have already used pacemaker data in two similar investigations. While many cases involving a person’s right to privacy are uncommon circumstances that won’t affect a large portion of the populace, San Diego criminal attorneys warn that this decision will have far-reaching implications for every American with a medical device. This is another reason why this specific case is so important and fascinating from a legal perspective. Only time will tell if the decision is appealed and if this issue will eventually make its way to the Supreme Court for a final, country-wide opinion.
As of yet, the police use of data from medical devices has been limited to Ohio and has not been implemented in California. If it is though, you can be sure the decision will be appealed.
If you believe your right to privacy has been violated by the police or if you have any questions about this case, San Diego defense lawyer Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your concerns.
Creative Commons Image by Justin Pickard