Trial observer who took photo of victim in high-profile case wins motion to suppress phone search

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A court officer who suspected an observer of a high-profile 2012 trial had taken his photo in a hallway outside a Brooklyn, N.Y., courtroom had a right to seize the individual’s cellphone and check it for photos of himself.

But once that suspicion was disproven, the officer should not have directed Yona Weissman to display all the photos on his cellphone without first obtaining a warrant, ruled Criminal Court Judge Michael Gerstein on Tuesday. Photographs are prohibited throughout the courthouse, and the judge presiding over the trial had also ordered that no pictures be taken.

The search revealed that Weissman had earlier taken a photo of the victim in a sexual abuse case against her Hasidic counselor, Nechemya Weberman, the New York Law Journal (sub. req.). reports.

Because of the improper search, however, Gerstein granted Weissman’s suppression motion, which is expected to conclude the contempt case he has been facing.

“Once [the officer] determined that the initial pictures he saw on defendant’s phone were not of him, did not appear to have been taken in the courthouse or any other location prohibited by rule, and did not exhibit any evidence of wrongdoing, Riley prohibits him from proceeding further as he in fact did, by scrolling through additional pictures on defendant’s phone,” Gerstein wrote, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision (PDF) in Riley v. California earlier this year.

Weberman was convicted and is serving a 50-year prison term. A New York Daily News article provides details.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Is warrant needed for cellphone search? Supreme Court ruling will have ‘huge’ impact, law prof says”

ABAJournal.com: “SCOTUS rules against warrantless cellphone searches in ‘sweeping endorsement of digital privacy’”

New York Daily News: “Judge overseeing sex abuse trial of Orthodox leader Nechemya Weberman gets snippy over courtroom snapshot outing accuser, 4 men detained in connection with illegal photo”

New York Daily News: “Case will be dropped against man with odd name of Lemon Juice, accused of tweeting photo of sex-abuse victim”

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