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Courts and Crime


Bedford case raises self-incrimination questions for the computer age
Judge is refusing to turn over his computer password
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
 
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A Bedford Heights judge accused of prostitution and corruption charges is trying to stop investigators from searching parts of his computer. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze has more on arguments that are emerging about self-incrimination and privacy in the computer age.

LISTEN: Computer passwords and self-incrimination

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Harry Jacob III has adamantly denied he was a pimp for prostitutes who appeared in his courtroom and that he accepted bribes. And he turned over his personal computer to investigators.

But the investigation of that computer stalled when police couldn’t access the encrypted part of the hard drive. Prosecutors want a Cuyahoga County judge to order Jacob to turn over his password. His lawyers say that would violate his Constitutional protection against self-incrimination, and want investigators to “cease and desist certain investigatory techniques.”

Ian Friedman teaches criminal law at Cleveland Marshall College of Law. He likens the argument to how far police can search your home if you allow them to enter – but says it goes much further.

“Now you’re talking about a house that’s filled with books, with thousands of pages, and with tapes and everything from your life, all of your pictures. Everything about your life. So the question is, did I give consent to have the computer or did I give consent to completely uncover every aspect of my life. So this is a case that should have great interest to the general public because of the broad consequences it could have on people’s everyday lives.”

 

Friedman says the Fifth Amendment argument is one that’s emerged only in the last five years and courts have been far from united in their decisions. 

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