Wrongful Convictions Blog

Cell-phone evidence doesn’t always ring true

Dozens of people have been convicted in recent years greatly because of cell-phone evidence prosecutors claimed put the accused near the scene of the crime at the time the offense was committed. In many cases, prosecutors have used the records from a single cell phone tower to win a conviction.

Defense attorneys often let this kind of testimony from cell-phone company technicians and government agents go unchallenged, but not anymore. An attorney’s attempt to challenge a murder conviction with the testimony of expert Manfred Schenk, who claims that cell-phone tower locating is “junk science,” was featured on this blog last week. The judge in that case didn’t buy Schenk’s testimony, but others are starting to.

In March, a Michigan judge said in a ruling that he was “quite impressed” with Schenk’s testimony and credentials. He said Schenk’s analysis “destroyed” the testimony of the state’s expert, an FBI agent with one week of training who placed the defendant near the crime scene. Despite that, the judge upheld the conviction because of the defendant’s recorded confession.

Schenk and his associates explain here why using the data from a single cell-phone tower to show a person’s location, as prosecutors often do, is bad science that leads to bad justice. This type of testimony has already led to acquittals at trial, and it could prove equally helpful in reversing wrongful convictions.