United States v. Matthew Beaudion (5th Cir. November 2020)

The Federal Docket

November 16, 2020

Fourth Amendment/Standing – A defendant did not have standing to challenge a search warrant for his girlfriend’s cell phone despite his purchase of the phone and frequent use of the phone.

Law enforcement sought and obtained a search warrant for the GPS location for the cell phone of Jessica Davis, Matthew Beaudion’s girlfriend who was allegedly with him on the way to complete a large drug transaction. The couple was pulled over, the two were arrested, and the cell phone was seized along with the drugs.

Appealing his conviction, Beaudion sought to challenge the search warrant after the district court held he lacked Fourth Amendment standing. The Fifth Circuit rejected Beaudion’s claims of standing. First, the Court held that the object of the search was location information for Davis located in the cell phone, not Beaudion himself or the car he was traveling in.

Beaudion also argued that he had standing to challenge the search of the phone because he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in its contents. While Beaudion had purchased the phone and given it to Davis, he retained permission to use the phone when he wanted, he had the password to the phone, he accessed his Facebook account from the phone, and he filmed himself and Davis on the phone.

Nonetheless, the Court held that Beaudion did not have a proprietary interest in the phone nor a reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone and thus lacked standing to challenge the warrant for the search of the phone. The Court noted that Beaudion did not have his own password for the phone, he had conveyed the phone to his girlfriend, and there was no evidence that Beaudion used the phone outside of his girlfriend’s presence. Other evidence suggested Davis was the primary user, maintained possession of the phone throughout the day, and her parents paid the phone bill.

The Court distinguished this result from Carpenter, where SCOTUS addressed cell-site data to track a phone’s owner, noting that Carpenter did not address using cell phone data to track a person besides the defendant.

Appeal from the Western District of Louisiana

Opinion by Oldham, joined by Smith and Clement

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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