An extortion case in Miami involving swimsuit models, social media celebrities and racy photos has led a judge to rule Wednesday that, at least in this case, phone passcodes are not constitutionally protected.
The case in question involves the arrests in July 2016 of Hencha Voigt, 29, and her then-boyfriend, Wesley Victor, 34, on charges of extortion. According to a Miami Police report, Voigt and Victor threatened to publish sexually explicit videos and photos of social media star “YesJulz” unless she paid them not to.
Voight and YesJulz have established large followings on social media. In addition to being a fitness model, Voigt is an Instagram celebrity who starred in 2016 on “WAGS Miami,” an E! reality TV show featuring the wives and girlfriends of athletes in South Beach.
In a 2016 profile of YesJulz, 27, The New York Times magazine described her as “Snapchat Royalty.” YesJulz, whose real name is Julieanna Goddard, is also known as a party promoter, jet-setter, and social media.
In an attempt to search Voight’s and Victor’s phones, prosecutors in the case have asked a judge to order the women to reveal their phone passcodes.
Attorneys for the defendants have argued that passcodes are equivalent to self-incriminating testimony and are therefore protected under the Fifth Amendment.
“They’re asking for the passcode so they can keep on searching what’s on the phone—which may be incriminating my client—and then use that against her,” Voigt’s attorney, Kertch Conze, told CNN. He noted that requiring a defendant to reveal a passcode known only to them was a legal “slippery slope.”
“I think it’s a new frontier,” Conze said. “I do believe that it’s eroding the rights that are guaranteed by the US Constitution.”
The motion was also opposed by Victor’s attorney, Zlejka Bozanic, who said that requiring someone to give you their thoughts was a “completely different story” than providing fingerprints or DNA.
“In order to get a password, you have to get the client to say what the password is,” Bozanic contended. “It’s definitely testimonial.”
According to Bozanic, a judge ruled on Wednesday in favor of the prosecutors, ordering Voigt and Victor to reveal their phone passwords.
CNN reported that “The ruling was based on a recent decision in the Florida Court of Appeals that ordered a man suspected of taking illicit photos up women’s skirts to give up his four-digit passcode to authorities.”
Bozanic contended that a case of this sort will ultimately reach the Supreme Court but, in the meantime, suspects hoping to protect information stored on their phones will be affected by the judge’s ruling.
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