Newly uncovered court documents in a federal armed New Jersey bank robbery case that went to trial in late February 2015 reveal an unusual back-and-forth between authorities and judges—ultimately resulting in the FBI seeking and getting a warrant to use a stingray. The move illustrates a rare known instance where authorities met the probable cause hurdle need for a warrant in a stingray deployment.
In 2012, federal prosecutors went to a judge to ask for a “pen/trap order,” a lower type of permission than a warrant. Such an order would have effectively authorized the use of a stingray. But the judge pushed back and imposed usage restrictions “in a private place.” In January 2015, two United States senators made public the FBI’s position that the agency could use stingrays in public places without a warrant.
Seemingly dissatisfied with this restriction, an FBI agent then took an unusual step—he swore in a new affidavit as part of a warrant application to a different judge for permission to deploy “mobile equipment.” Such gear would enable the FBI “to monitor the dialing, routing, addressing, and signaling information of the Target Facility in order to determine its general location for a period of 30 days beginning within 14 days of the date of the warrant.” The second judge, United States Magistrate Judge Mark Falk, signed off on the search warrant absent other limits.
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