AG claims not having a phone makes you a criminal

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The ubiquity of smartphones is causing some to pine for simpler times, when we didn’t have the entire history of humankind’s knowledge at our fingertips on devices that tracked our every move. There’s a growing trend, particularly among young people, to use non-smartphones, or “basic phones.” The reasons range from aesthetic to financial to concern for mental health. But according to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, having a basic phone, or a phone with no data on it, or no phone at all in the year 2024, is evidence of criminal intent. The AG’s position poses grave dangers for all Georgians’ constitutional rights.

Last month, Deputy Attorney General John Fowler argued in state court that mere possession of a basic cellphone indicates criminal intent to commit conspiracy under Georgia’s racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations statute, better known as RICO.

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His accusation was directed at 19-year-old Ayla King, one of 61 people indicted last summer on RICO charges linked to protests in the South River Forest where the $109 million Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, nicknamed “Cop City” by its opponents, is slated to be built. The RICO charges against King and the 60 other RICO defendants have been widely criticized as a political prosecution running contrary to the First Amendment. King is the first of these defendants to stand trial.

During the Jan. 8 hearing in Fulton County Superior Court, Fowler argued that a cellphone in King’s possession on the day of their arrest, which he characterized as a “burner phone,” should be admissible as evidence of wrongdoing, even though it contained no data. He went even further to suggest that not possessing a cellphone at all also indicates criminal intent. Judge Kimberly Adams agreed to admit evidence of King’s cellphone.

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Civil liberty groups are decrying the AG’s argument and court’s action as violations of constitutional rights under the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment. In an open letter to Attorney General Carr, the groups wrote, “It is alarming that prosecutors sworn to uphold the Constitution would even make such arguments—let alone that a sitting judge would seriously entertain them, and allow a phone to be searched and potentially admitted into evidence without any indication that it was used for illegal purposes.”

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