The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a victim’s privacy involving a sexual assault case in Minneapolis, issuing a rare writ of prohibition.
The justices blocked a Hennepin County District Court order that would have compelled the victim to provide her cellphone to the defense’s forensic examiner, giving them unlimited access to 4½ months of all data on the victim’s phone. The decision also reversed a state Court of Appeals ruling.
Cengiz Gino Yildirim was charged in March 2019 with third-degree criminal sexual conduct. According to the criminal complaint, he assaulted the victim, identified as B.H., after she and some friends were drinking in a bar after a concert.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court concluded that requiring B.H. to turn over her cellphone to a defense-hired expert to extract data, under the district court’s order denying B.H.’s previous motion to quash the request, was unauthorized by law.
Cellphones are different from any other source of information, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. Arguing on behalf of the state, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Adam Petras stated why protecting the victim’s privacy in this case was so important.
“Victim privacy rights are absolutely critical, especially in sexual assault and domestic violence cases,” he said. “It was reassuring to see the Supreme Court recognize the chilling effect that the lower courts’ decisions would have had on investigations of and prosecutions for these types of crimes.”
Criminal defendants are entitled to defend themselves against the charges they face, the county attorney’s office said. The state pointed out that a suspect’s personal cellphone can’t be forensically examined unless there is adequate justification.
“We’re simply advocating for the law to treat alleged victims’ personal cellphones the same way that it already treats those belonging to criminal defendants,” said Petras.