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Man Refused to Unlock His Phone at Traffic Stop. A Judge Threw Him in Jail.

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After police seized two smart phones from William Montanez, the man refused to provide the codes needed to unlock them. Montanez actually told a judge that he couldn’t remember the codes needed to unlock them. The judge was unimpressed, though, and sentenced Montanez to 180 days in jail for his failure to comply.

Gregory Holder, the Florida judge hearing Montanez’s case, found Montanez guilty of civil contempt. “The strangest part about Montanez’s predicament is that it started with a traffic stop,” Gizmodo writes. “According to an emergency writ filed by Montanez’s lawyer, he was pulled over by police on June 21 for not properly yielding while pulling out of a driveway. The officers making the stop asked to search his car, which he refused, so the police brought in a drug-sniffing dog.”

Records show that the canine unit was contacted before Montanez had refused the search, which civil liberties critics find suspicious.

“In 2015, the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Rodriguez v. United States made clear that police are not to turn traffic stops into investigations of other possible infractions,” Gizmodo notes. “Police have to have reason to believe another crime has been committed in order to investigate further, and refusing to allow law enforcement to search your car is not a valid reason for suspicion.”

The dogs found what they were looking for. There were small amounts of marijuana and THC oil in the car. There was also a handgun. That, Montanez argued, belonged to his mother.

The phones, though, are at the center of this debate. They were located in the car, too. While the police had the phones, a text message reportedly flashed on the screen. It read: “OMG did they find it.”

That was enough for the police to request, and receive a search warrant. Oddly, the warrant claimed the phones contained evidence of “Possession of Cannabis Less Than 20 grams” and “Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.” But Montanez had admitted to both of those charges.

When he repeatedly refused to unlock the phones, he was taken to court.

Patrick Leduc, Montanez’s lawyer, has filed an emergency petition to challenge the judge’s contempt ruling. Though it seems like the court warrant will stand, the circumstances leading up to the warrant are circumspect.

“If they arrest you for anything — whether it’s drugs, guns, you name it — and an electronic device is nearby, they can get a search warrant and search it,” Leduc warns. “And if you don’t provide that information to search it, to unlock, because you want to keep the information private, we’ll put you in jail.”