KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — The Washington State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a former police officer by finding a cellphone search of a suspect that was used against him to be unconstitutional.
The ruling could result in the reversal of convictions against former Pasco Police Sgt. Zachary J. Fairley, Tri-City Herald reported Sunday.
Steven E. Brown made bomb threats to Columbia Basin College in Pasco to avoid taking his college placement test in July 2013, authorities said.
Police confiscated Brown's cellphone and found text messages between Fairley and Brown's daughter, who they said placed an ad on a website often used for prostitution.
Investigators questioned Fairley about the messages and said he lied several times to cover up his contact with the woman.
A jury found Fairley guilty of obstruction and making false statements to police. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail in 2015.
The Franklin County Superior Court rejected Fairley's claim that police did not have permission to search the phone, but the appeals court recently sided with Fairley in ruling that "permission to search the phone was neither sought nor granted.”
An unlimited search could give police access to a variety of personal details such as medical information, the court said.
“Without explicit judicial oversight, cellphone searches pose a danger of government overreach far beyond what was envisioned by the architects of the Fourth Amendment,” the court said.
The case will return to Franklin County Superior Court, where a judge will decide whether the appeals court decision will change the result of Fairley's conviction appeal.
Prosecutors are reviewing the opinion to determine a recommendation, Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant said.
Etoy Alford Jr., Fairley's attorney, said he expected the convictions would be overturned.