Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Home > Blog > Criminal > Vehicle Black Boxes: Does The 4th Amendment Apply?

Vehicle Black Boxes: Does The 4th Amendment Apply?


The 4th Amendment is about as old as the country itself. Yet, it seems that every day, there are new cases that come up, as courts try to square our constitution with new innovations in technology.

What Are Black Boxes?

This time the legal issue relates to black boxes. You may have heard of black boxes in terms of airplane crashes. The boxes record crucial data about the airplane, both mechanical, technological, and recordings of what the pilots do or say. In the event of an accident, the boxes can be retrieved, and experts can make sense of what happened and why, in order to avoid accidents in the future.

Many people don’t know that modern cars also come with their own black boxes. The boxes record the car’s speed, what the wheels are doing, braking actions, and how the car is being controlled (unlike airline boxes, they do not record what the driver is saying, although they can record anything going through the in-dash infotainment system).

Can Police Search Black Boxes?

That black box can have crucial evidence that can help police prove a case against an accused. But can they be retrieved by police and searched? One case looked into just this issue, when someone was arrested for DUI. The driver’s black box was taken by police without a warrant and the driver alleged that his 4th amendment search and seizure rights had been violated.

The police argued that there was no search and seizure, because looking at a black box was no different than looking at damage to a car, or the tires, or any other physical structure. In other words, police argued that searching the black box was not a search at all, under the 4th Amendment.

But the court disagreed, saying that unlike physical features which could be viewed out in the open, information on a black box must be extracted, and interpreted. The general public can’t walk past your car and see or understand what is in a black box, the way that they could with other physical damage. In that way, the court reasoned, the information in a black box was no different than what is on your cell phone. Police do need a warrant to search a cell phone.

Dissent Says Black Boxes Aren’t Private

Not all justices agreed with the decision. Some felt that information on a black box is not private, as it only records things like location or what the car is doing. The black box records nothing that is “inputted” by the user, the way a phone does.

This case was not one decided by the US Supreme Court, so right now, courts can decide differently. However, there is at least an argument to try to keep prosecutors from searching a black box without abiding by the 4th Amendment.

Contact the Miami criminal attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today for help if you are arrested or have a criminal law problem.



Facebook Twitter LinkedIn