A Hollywood, Florida man accused of child abuse was just handed a sentence of 180 days in jail. But her is the shocker. His sentence is not for child abuse, but instead for refusing to give up his iPhone password to police during the investigation.
Broward county court records show that Christopher Wheeler, 41, was taken into custody on the associated charge in a Broward Circuit Court on Tuesday. Wheeler insisted he had already provided the pass code to police investigating him for child abuse, but the pass-code he gave them did not work. This incident is just the latest shot fired in the battle over police access to smartphones.
Wheeler stood with his hands cuffed behind him as he told Judge Michael Rothschild; “I swear, under oath, I’ve given them the password.” Circuit Judge Rothschild had found Wheeler guilty of contempt of court over his failure to provide a working code. Ironically, while this drama was playing out in Broward County, a few miles down the road in Miami-Dade another man was being accused of extorting a social-media celebrity over stolen sex videos.
That man, Wesley Victor, and his girlfriend had been ordered by a judge to produce a pass code to phones suspected of containing text messages showing their collusion in the extortion plot. Victor claimed he didn’t remember the number. But in this case Victor prevailed. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Charles Johnson ruled that there was no way to prove that Victor actually remembered his pass code, more than 10 months after his initial arrest.
Johnson declined to hold the man in contempt of court. “The judge made the right call,” said his lawyer, Zeljka Bozanic. “My client testified he did not remember. It’s been almost a year. Many people, including myself, can’t remember passwords from a year ago.”
Victor and his girlfriend, reality TV star Hencha Voigt, are accused of threatening to release sex videos stolen from Miami social-media celebrity YesJulz unless they received $18,000. The cases point out the friction over courts ordering defendants to give up their pass codes, which critics say violates a citizen’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Judges have struggled to determine how much access law enforcement can get to smartphones, tablets and hard drives.
The Florida Supreme Court has yet to take up the issue.