The New York State Supreme Court Justice Andrew Ceresia recently ruled that prosecutors are not allowed to introduce Google location services as evidence into the second degree murder trial of Johnny Oquendo. In the ruling, Ceresia highlighted that prosecutors ultimately “failed to meet their burden” when exemplifying that Google location services is accepted in the relevant scientific community.
Prosecutors had originally wanted to introduce evidence from the Oquendo’s cellphone from the night of the murder, arguing that the location services on his phone could pinpoint where the defendant was throughout that night. Oquendo’s defense attorney William Roberts asked the judge to hold a hearing in regards to the evidence.
The hearing was held on October 16, 2017; prosecutors called two witnesses to the stand, an FBI Special Agent Michael Sabric and a records custodian for Google, Sarah Rodriquez. While the witnesses presented by the state were qualified to offer opinions on the google technology, the judge argued, there simply was not any reference to how the technology itself has gained acceptance in the scientific community.
The prosecution’s argument is that Oquendo strangled Noel Alkaramla, a 21-year old woman, and dumped her body in the Hudson River. The suitcase which contained her body later washed up on shore in Albany, New York. Oquendo is a registered sex offender and his residence is the last known place where Noel Alkaramla was before her death.
The FBI witness that was called by the state mostly testified about his use of google technology as an investigative skill, argued the judge. Rodriguez testified about the format Google uses to maintain location history and about sources of information google uses to estimate the location of a user’s cell phone. Neither witnesses offered a scientific explanation of the technology nor did they have any sort of scientific training.
On top of the not-so-strong expert witness testimony, the judge recognized that the prosecutors failed to produce any scientific experts, legal writings, or judicial opinions to support their argument and to ultimately convince the judge to allow smart phone technology as evidence.
In the judge’s ruling, it was apparent that he believed the prosecutors failed to meet their burden- ultimately granting the defendant’s motion to preclude evidence. Oquendo, if convicted of second degree murder, could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the crime. You can read more about the case on the Times Union website here.
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