Minnesota Supreme Court decision on victims' privacy rights

Friday,

In a unanimous decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court in the case of In re: B.H. v. Cengiz Gino Yildirim, victims’ rights to privacy came out victorious.

On July 29, the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision blocked a trial court order which would have required B.H., the alleged victim of sexual assault in this case, to provide her cellphone to the defense’s forensic examiner, who would have had unlimited access to four-and-a-half months of any and all data on the victim’s phone. To block the trial court order, the Supreme Court issued a writ of prohibition, which are rarely issued in Minnesota.

A Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling from February 18 was also overturned by the Supreme Court’s decision, which can be read here.

Two major themes emerged from this decision:

  1. Victims’ rights to privacy, and
  2. Cellphones are different than any other source of information.

Arguing on behalf of the state, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Adam Petras stated why this outcome was so important, “Victim-privacy rights are absolutely critical, especially in sexual assault and domestic violence cases. It was reassuring to see the Supreme Court recognize the chilling effect that the lower courts’ decisions would have had on investigations of and prosecutions for these types of crimes.

Criminal defendants are of course entitled to defend themselves against the charges they face. But the massive array and amount of information that we all possess on our personal cell phones is why, as the Supreme Court held in its decision, the Court ‘expect[s] district courts to carefully examine subpoenas for such data.’”

In this case, the state pointed out that a suspect’s personal cellphone cannot be forensically examined unless there is an adequate justification for that type of search. 

“We’re simply advocating for the law to treat alleged victims’ personal cellphones the same way that it already treats those belonging to criminal defendants,” Petras added.

To watch the oral argument, please click here.