Cell Phone Location Does Not Require Expert Testimony

An Ohio Court of Appeals has held that testimony about the location of a cell phone, obtained from cell phone provider records, was not expert testimony.

The case is State v. Perry, 2012 Ohio 4888.

In this case, the defendant was a suspect in a series of burglaries.  As part of the case, the State offered testimony regarding triangulation pinpointing with cell phone towers.  In particular, the witness offered an opinion regarding the approximate whereabouts of a cell phone at the time of the various thefts. The defendant argued that the testimony about the location of the phone was expert testimony, and that the state have provided a report summarizing the testimony, findings, analysis, conclusion, or opinion 21 days before trial.

Instead of an expert report, the disclosed that it intended to call witnesses to testify concerning the authenticity of cell phone records and also provide technical insights into how cell phones operate in conjunction with different tower sites in order to provide geographical information.

The trial testimony was accomplished by reviewing the date and time a call was placed, then determining which cell-phone tower provided the service; a method known as ‘triangulation.’  Notably, the phone number located was not the defendant’s but an accomplice’s.  Most of the testimony concerned how a cell phone works, including how the phone utilizes nearby towers for connectivity.  The court concluded that the witness “simply compared the locations on the phone records to locations on the tower site maps by matching the relevant numbers recorded by the service provider.”  This was not expert testimony because “any layperson could make this determination by examining the respective exhibits.”

Because the testimony was not “expert” testimony, the state was not required to provide a report prior to trial.

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