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Robert Andrews v. State of New Jersey

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: December 7, 2021

What's at Stake

Whether the Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment protects an individual from being compelled to recall and truthfully disclose a memorized smartphone passcode, where communicating the passcode may lead to the discovery of incriminating evidence to be used against him in a criminal prosecution?

While investigating Robert Andrews for state criminal offenses, the NJ prosecutor obtained a court order requiring Petitioner to disclose his smartphone passcodes to two iPhones. The State of New Jersey believes the passcodes will enable it to find evidence that Mr. Andrews committed a crime. Mr. Andrews refused to disclose his passwords, invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the Fifth Amendment privilege does not protect him from being compelled to communicate his memorized passcodes to the government, ruling that the privilege was overcome because the passcodes’ existence, possession, and authentication were “foregone conclusions.”

With this petition on behalf of Mr. Andrews, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), along with New Jersey-based Tarver Law Offices, urge the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination extends to the digital age by prohibiting law enforcement from forcing individuals to disclose their phone and computer passcodes. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held, consistent with the Fifth Amendment, that the government cannot compel a person to answer a question whose answer could be incriminating. Lower courts, however, have disagreed on the scope of the right to remain silent when the government demands that a person disclose or enter phone and computer passwords. This confusing patchwork of rulings has resulted in Fifth Amendment rights depending on where one lives, and in some cases, whether state or federal authorities are the ones demanding the password. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this case to settle this critical question about digital privacy and self-incrimination.

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