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Tuesday, Indiana Supreme Court justices made a major ruling in a case FOX59 first reported April 2019.

A Carmel woman, Katelin Seo, refused to unlock her phone for a criminal investigation, and her lawyers argued that if Seo did, she would be going against her own 5th amendment rights.

READ MORE: What’s your password? Indiana Supreme Court to rule on unlocking smartphones for police

The state’s high court agreed on June 23, and that ruling could mean big changes for every Hoosier with a smartphone and every Indiana law enforcement department.

The local case not only impacts Indiana, but also could change nationwide how investigators collect evidence for their cases.

“I think this case will be used in other jurisdictions, and we think it was an important case for civil liberties,” said Seo’s attorney William Webster of Webster & Garino Law Firm.

This ruling sets a precedent that reinforces Hoosiers’ right not to self-incriminate. It also touches briefly on right to privacy — and all of it centers on a person’s phone or electronic device.

FOX59’s Beairshelle Edmé looked through the court documents and the justices, ruling in favor of Seo, said she could not be forced to unlock her phone & should not be held in contempt for not unlocking the iPhone.

Forcing Seo to unlock her iPhone would violate her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. By unlocking her smartphone, Seo would provide law enforcement with
information it does not already know, which the State could then use in its prosecution against her. The Fifth Amendment’s protection from compelled self-incrimination prohibits this result. We thus reverse and remand.

Chief Justice Rush

“Officers were routinely issuing subpoenas and court orders were being issued requiring people to unlock their cell phone or electronic device, and as all of us are well aware, there is a wealth of information that’s stored on your phone,” he said. “So the issue we ran into is can someone be forced to unlock their device so law enforcement can search their phone for incriminating evidence.”

When Seo didn’t honor the subpoena and unlock her phone, a trial court found her in contempt — and now the Indiana Supreme Court has also reversed the contempt order.

In the Court’s opinion, officers need a specific request if they subpoena a phone or electronic device.

“Again in my case, it (the subpoena) was just a forensic download on all the contents of phone. There wasn’t anything specifically identified,” the Westfield lawyer explained. “So unless law enforcement knows what they’re looking for with reasonable particularity then why this case is important now, is that you’re not compelled now to provide that information to law enforcement.”

Tuesday afternoon, Edmé did reach out to the Indiana Attorney General’s Office to discuss losing its case. In a statement, the office said the following:

“The U.S. Constitution’s protection of individual privacy is of critical importance to our free society. But the Constitution is a delicate balance. It also recognizes society’s equally important interest in investigating crime and holding criminals responsible. These legal issues are difficult, and courts all across the county are struggling with how to strike the right balance when modern technology is concerned. Our argument, in this case, has always been that police followed the proper procedures to obtain a court order and Ms. Seo should have also followed proper court procedures rather than first openly flaunting her contempt for the trial court. So while we respectfully disagree with some aspects of the decision, we are carefully reviewing it to determine how it will impact future criminal investigations involving electronic devices.”

Webster believes his client’s case may not be over either and anticipates it could move beyond Indiana to Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Supreme Court.

You can read the Court’s dissenting opinion here.