The Utah Supreme Court recently upheld an appeals court ruling that reversed Alfonso Valdez’s conviction. Valdez was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. When police seized his locked cellphone, he refused to provide the passcode. At trial, prosecutors referenced Valdez’s refusal to undermine his defense.
The appeals court ruled that the prosecution violated Valdez’s Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. The Supreme Court agreed—stating that verbally providing a phone passcode constitutes protected “testimonial communication.” It rejected the prosecution’s arguments that passcodes are like physical keys not protected by the Fifth Amendment.
This case highlights how Constitutional rights like the Fifth Amendment apply to new contexts involving technology. As cellphones containing large amounts of private information become ubiquitous, courts must determine how historic legal principles govern law enforcement access to locked devices. This ruling makes clear that verbally providing a passcode requires the highest level of Constitutional protection.
See, State v. Valdez 2023 UT 26.