A judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, has unsealed 529 orders involving cellphone surveillance requests that were so secret the DA’s office didn’t see the records.

Senior Resident Judge Richard Boner unsealed the surveillance orders last week at the request of the Charlotte Observer and its news partner, WBTV, the Charlotte Observer reports. The records suggest judges rarely refused the requests by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, made at a rate of about two a week. Ars Technica noted the story.

The applications, kept in a file cabinet at the clerk’s office since 2010, noted the suspect’s name, a brief description of the case, and “boilerplate language related to phone data,” the Observer says. Because the documents don’t mention use of a stingray device, which mimics a cellphone tower to track cellphone location, it’s unknown how often it was used. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department acquired stingray technology in 2006.

Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser told the Charlotte Observer that officials will review the records to determine whether the cellphone information was used to convict defendants. If so, the information will be turned over to defendants and defense lawyers, he said.

Police apparently used most of the cellphone surveillance to capture suspects rather than to make a case against them, Menser told the Observer. As a result, he is confident the convictions will not be overturned. “That is our fervent hope,” he said.

Boner told the Observer that he didn’t require the surveillance orders he signed to be filed with the clerk’s office until 2010, when he attended a judicial conference and learned of the requirement. Before that, he gave the signed orders back to police, who kept the orders in investigative files.

“I wasn’t aware we weren’t keeping it,” Boner told the Observer. “It’s not something I spent a lot of time thinking about.”

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices

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