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It doesn’t take an expert to make a map using cell phone tower data provided by phone company

State v. Lance Donelle Butler, Jr., 2014AP1769-CR, District 1, 6/9/15 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Using cell phone tower data provided by Butler’s cell phone service provider to make a map of where Butler had used his cell phone on the day of the crime didn’t require “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” under § 907.02(1); thus, the police officers who created the map didn’t need to be qualified as experts under the statute and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

¶18     [Officer] Brosseau testified that he took the information from Verizon and plotted it onto a map to make a visual representation of the information from Verizon. He did not change anything or analyze anything. He took the data from Verizon and marked a map with the cell tower Verizon said each of the calls from Butler’s cell phone used. He marked the map with the time Verizon said the cell phone made the call, and he marked the map with the particular sector of the tower Verizon said the call used. This is information based on Brosseau’s perception from looking at the Verizon records, and most definitely would be helpful to the jury in understanding the information. Brosseau did not need scientific, technical, or specialized training to make this map. Thus, his testimony was properly admitted as lay opinion. See United States v. Evans, 892 F. Supp. 2d 949, 953 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (creating a map plotting cell towers a defendant’s phone used does not require specialized knowledge and is admissible through lay opinion testimony).

¶19      [Officer] Draeger testified that he did not create the map, but confirmed that the map Brosseau created did not involve granulization; rather, it simply created a visual representation of the data Verizon gave to the police. This too was properly admitted lay opinion.

Two notes: First, in case you’re wondering, two phone company employees testified to lay a foundation for and explain the information in the phone records the police had subpoenaed. (¶8). Second, this case did not involve so-called “granulization” evidence, which apparently involves looking at where cell phone tower coverage areas overlap in order to pinpoint the phone user’s exact location at the time he or she is using the phone. (¶20). “Because the case before us does not involve the more complex issue of granulization, it is not necessary for us to address whether either officer qualifies as an expert witness on the topic of granulization.” (¶21). Needless to say, it seems unlikely a patrol officer would ever qualify as an expert in “granulization.”

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