William W. Greenhalgh Student Writing Competition

Sunday, July 1, 2018
Award Amount: 

The winner will receive a $2,500 cash prize that may be presented at an agreed-upon CJS event with approved transportation costs not to exceed $800 to be covered by the Section. At the sole discretion of the editorial board, the winning entry may be selected for publication in Criminal Justice magazine, subject to editing. The Sponsor may substitute a prize of equal or greater value in its sole discretion. Please note: the ABA must have the first right of publication of the selected essay.

DESCRIPTION: This Competition is sponsored by Criminal Justice (“Section”) of the American Bar Association (“ABA”), 321 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (the “Sponsor”). The goal of the Competition is to encourage law students to become involved in the Section. It is also intended to attract students to the Criminal Justice practice field, and to encourage scholarship in this field. Each entrant must follow the rules of the competition detailed herein.

ELIGIBILITY: The contest is open to students who, on the date the entry is submitted, attend and are in good standing at an ABA-accredited law school within the United States and its possessions. Membership in the Criminal Justice Section is not a requirement. Entrants must be at least 18 years of age and legal permanent residents or citizens of the United States. Employees, officers, directors of the ABA and members of their immediate families are not eligible.

TOPIC: The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” This provision is a powerful protector of privacy rights for individuals. Despite this, the one-sentence amendment is vague, and what constitutes reasonableness has been left to the judicial branch for interpretation.

With technological innovations comes the potential for law enforcement to develop new tools to investigate and prosecute crimes. Today, law enforcement officers, attorneys, and courts are challenged by the constitutional implications of emerging technologies that were not contemplated in the 18th century when the Fourth Amendment was drafted.

One such tool is the “cell-site simulator,” also known as the “IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catcher,” “stingray,” “triggerfish,” or “swamp box.” The device operates by mimicking the signal of a cell phone tower to mobile phones in a given neighborhood. The phones respond, providing their ID numbers. Once a phone is connected to the simulator, the operator can pinpoint its location with an error margin of only a few feet. This process can transpire without the knowledge of the phone user or the third-party network carrier.

Contestants should address the following questions:

• Does using a cell-site simulator constitute an “unreasonable” search in Fourth Amendment terms? If not, why not? And if yes, why and when?

• Please address the following issues:

o The legal relevance of the reliance of cell-site simulators on information that has been voluntarily conveyed to third parties.

o The impact of the location of the phone and the length of surveillance on your Fourth Amendment analysis.

o The potential need to reexamine certain precepts of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence in the digital age. One such precept is the third-party doctrine established by Smith v. Maryland (99 S.Ct. 2577 (1979)), according to which an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in business record information voluntarily transmitted to a third party. In a modern era in which every aspect of our lives is “voluntarily” transmitted to and recorded by third parties—from our location information (through location-based Google Maps, cell phone towers, our cars, or our miscellaneous “check-ins”, among others), to our Cloud-stored e-mails and data, Fitbit-recorded exercise regimens, and lists of Facebook “friends”— should we continue to characterize such disclosures as “voluntary” and surrender all expectations of privacy in such information?

Clear, persuasive and original analytical reasoning that is well-supported with concrete examples and references are essential and will weigh heavily in the determination of the contest winner.