Longview drug case reaches state Supreme Court

2013-04-16T21:00:00Z 2014-02-27T18:00:13Z Longview drug case reaches state Supreme CourtBy Tony Lystra / The Daily News Longview Daily News
April 16, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

The Washington State Supreme Court next month will hear the case of a Cowlitz County man who unwittingly tried to buy heroin from a Longview police officer who had seized a drug peddler’s cellphone.

At stake is whether cops can pretend to be drug dealers after they arrest dealers and those dealers’ phones start ringing. The tactic is commonly used by police across the nation.

On Nov. 3, 2009, Longview police detective Kevin Sawyer was given the iPhone of a man recently arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs, according to court documents. In the hours that followed, Sawyer used the phone to arrest two men suspected of trying to buy drugs. One of them was Shawn Daniel Hinton, 26, of Longview, who sent a text message to the dealer’s phone, authorities said.

“Hey whats up dogg can you call me i need to talk to you,” (sic) read the message, according to briefs filed with the state Supreme Court.

Over the course of several text messages, Sawyer arranged to meet Hinton at the Safeway grocery store on 15th Avenue in Longview, where it was agreed Hinton would give the detective $200 for a “ball” of heroin, according to court documents. Police arrested Hinton on suspicion of attempted heroin possession after he was spotted in a mini van in the grocery store’s parking lot.

A Cowlitz County Superior Court judge ruled that the text message could be used against Hinton. Hinton stipulated to the facts of the case, was convicted of attempted drug crimes on July 15, 2010 and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Hinton then took his case to the state Court of Appeals, which also ruled the evidence admissible.

Hinton’s lawyer, John Hays of Longview, argues that Hinton had a reasonable expectation that his text message would be private, and therefore Longview police needed to get a search warrant before accessing the drug dealer’s iPhone. Without a warrant, the use of Hinton’s text message to arrest Hinton violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against illegal searches and the state constitution’s privacy protections, Hays argues.

The Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office says that, because iPhone text messages simply pop up on the phone’s screen — meaning Sawyer didn’t have to press any buttons to see it — he didn’t need a warrant to review the message. In their brief to the high court, Prosecutor Sue Baur and Deputy Prosecutor Sean Brittain argue that a text message can’t be considered private because its sender doesn’t know who will end up reading it once it appears on the receiving cellphone.

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys has filed a brief backing the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office’s assertion that Longview police’s use of cellphone was constitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union and The Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, have filed briefs supporting Hinton’s case.

The ACLU’s lawyers argue in their brief that text messages have become “extremely common in modern life” and that they deserve the same privacy protections as other forms of communication, including phone calls and letters.

The state’s high court will hear oral arguments in the case May 7.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated how the case was initially resolved in the local court.

TDN Online Editor; email: sheisel@tdn.com

Copyright 2014 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(20) Comments

  1. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 16, 2013 11:51 pm
    Ha Ha making new laws as we speak!!
  2. valerie2112
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    valerie2112 - April 17, 2013 2:05 am
    "Attempted possession" of non-existent heroin?

    Sounds sketchy.
  3. rvparent
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    rvparent - April 17, 2013 6:22 am
    he Should Be Charged. His Phone Could Have Been Left On A Counter Were Anyone Coukd See The texT He Belongs In jail
  4. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 17, 2013 12:10 pm
    Actually if you read the article.. It wasn't even Shawns phone the detective had gotten the phone after a suspected drug dealer had been arrested and when Mr Hinton texted her proceeded to pretend to be the person that the phone initially belonged to... Definantly an invasion of privacy if you ask me!!
  5. Cougs80
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    Cougs80 - April 17, 2013 1:10 pm
    Oh for crying out loud. Invasion of privacy of someone attempting to purchase a dangerous illegal substance? Too bad! Moral of the story: don't be a druggie. If the officer saw these texts and DIDN'T do anything about it, and the junkie went and bought heroin from someone else and then died of an overdose, everyone would be blaming the officer for not stopping him. Boo hoo, "rights" violated. Give me a break. We upstanding non drug using citizens have a right to a drug-free community!!!
  6. nnoxks
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    nnoxks - April 17, 2013 6:28 pm
    Indeed, everyone knows the constitution does not apply to drug users. Oh wait.
  7. nnoxks
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    nnoxks - April 17, 2013 6:31 pm
    "At stake is whether cops can pretend to be drug dealers after they arrest dealers and those dealers’ phones start ringing."

    Uh, no. At stake is whether we have a constitutional right to privacy in information contained in our cell phones. Which is a little more important perhaps than this article implies.
  8. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 17, 2013 6:36 pm
    obviously you have not had a family member or loved one struggle with the disease of addiction. Yes He did text the phones owner intending to buy drugs. That is True. Does that mean he is not a human being? NO it does not, I will tell you one thing that Mr. Hinton wasn't though.. He was not judgemental about things he did not understand. and he never pretended to be something he wasn't. Anyway Just so you know Shawn is now clean and has been for two years now!!
  9. beerman
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    beerman - April 17, 2013 7:56 pm
    im all for drug addicts being put away but "attempted possession"????.come on..the attempted is enough to get charges dropped..are the cops "attempting"to be smart???
  10. Cougs80
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    Cougs80 - April 18, 2013 9:14 am
    Of course it does not mean he is not a human being. However, when human beings make choices that put them and others at risk, there are consequences, and it is ridiculous for someone to try and avoid accepting responsibility for his mistakes by trying to find legal loopholes. .
  11. Cougs80
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    Cougs80 - April 18, 2013 9:30 am
    Let me get this straight. Heroin is an illegal susbtance, yes? One could reasonably assume that Mr. Hinton is aware of this, yet he had no problems breaking laws that state you are not allowed to purchase or possess this substance. However, now that he has been caught, we think the law should be on his side, despite his complete disregard for it up until that point? Oh wait ...
  12. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 18, 2013 6:34 pm
    Yes Heroin is an illegal substance, Yes Mr Hinton was and is aware of this. Yes he did call someone to try and get some. What you are failing to understand is... Shawn already did his time.. 30 days! It says this in the article in black and white. It also says in the article that this incident happened in November of 2010. It is not Mr Hinton that is taking this to the state supreme court..Shawn isnt even aware that this is happening. The American Civil Liberties Union
  13. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 18, 2013 6:35 pm
    are the ones making this a big deal. however Im glad because at least someone is trying to follow our constitutional laws...
  14. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 18, 2013 6:40 pm
    again Shawn is not the one taking this to the next level... READ THE ARTICLE AGAIN!
  15. Josh R
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    Josh R - April 18, 2013 7:38 pm
    This case is all about can the cops pretend to be drug dealers. Google gives you a lot of case information. There is no constitutional issues at hand. The court said Hinton has no claim to privacy issues because the phone was not his. They said once his message is received on the other phone its no longer protected. He cant be sure the message reached the intended recipient. If thats true then this case is simple. People lose cell phones all the time.
  16. OldIrish
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    OldIrish - April 19, 2013 10:06 pm
    All of our rights (constitutional or court decided) deserve vigorous defense, even if the beneficiary is a drug buyer or other type of criminal. If we think a violation has occured we are allowed (perhaps even obligated) to challenge the offending person, organization, or branch of gov't in court. This is something to be gratetful for, not resentful of. Think of the alternatives. This is one of the things that separates us from third world countries.
  17. OldIrish
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    OldIrish - April 19, 2013 10:18 pm
    This is America. Like it or not, *everyone* has rights. It's something that, dang it, we just have to live with. Life would be so much easier if we ran things like, oh, let's say..... North Korea.
  18. pimpstress
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    pimpstress - April 20, 2013 6:22 pm
    my bad it happened in November of 2009. I agree with oldirish. everyone has rights... period that's all there is too it...
  19. Questionauthority
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    Questionauthority - April 21, 2013 9:27 pm
    You own your own body, it is your only true possession. Heroin is a sickness yes, however if you want to shoot up you have every right. No other person has authority over you, period. Drug laws are a joke.
  20. Aaron_Kightlinger
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    Aaron_Kightlinger - May 04, 2013 7:50 am
    Similar case coming out of Florida's Supreme Court: http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/403455/matt-dixon/2013-05-02/high-court-police-need-warrant-search-cell-phones
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