A Miami reality TV star won’t be going to jail for refusing to give cops the pass code to her iPhone in an extortion case being closely watched in legal and tech circles.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Charles Johnson declined to hold Hencha Voigt in contempt of court after she twice gave police what she said might be pass codes to her phone. Neither code worked. But because police had seized the phone nearly one year ago, it was plausible that Voigt simply didn’t remember the code, Johnson ruled.
“There’s nothing jumping off the page that she’s willfully lying to me,” Johnson said.
Voigt’s case was one of the latest involving judges ordering defendants to give up phone pass codes, which critics say violates a citizen’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Across the country, judges have struggled to determine how much access law enforcement can get to smartphones, tablets and hard drives — particularly ones using increasingly sophisticated encryption technology.
Last year, an appeals court in Sarasota ruled that a man could be compelled to give up his pass code for a phone that might contain illegal images. The Florida Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue, and appeals on other cases are pending.
Just last month, a Broward judge ordered a Hollywood man to serve 180 days in jail for failing to give his pass code for a phone that might contain evidence of child abuse. He insisted that he had given the right code; a judge didn’t believe him.
Voigt and co-defendant Wesley Victor are accused of shaking down a social-media celebrity named YesJulz. Prosecutors say the two demanded $18,000 in exchange for not releasing sex videos stolen from YesJulz, whose real name is Julieanna Goddard.
Voigt is a self-described “fitness model” who has more than 193,000 followers on Instagram. Last fall, she starred on E!’s “Miami WAGS,” a reality show that followed the wives and girlfriends of sports celebrities.
Miami Beach police arrested Voigt and Victor together in July 2016, seizing four phones.
Analysts were able to gain access to a “trap phone,” which police believe was used to communicate with the victim. But they could not access Voigt and Victor’s encrypted personal phones, which investigators believe will show text-message exchanges definitely proving they worked together to extort YesJulz.
A judge signed a search warrant authorizing access to the phones. But police could not gain access, spurring prosecutors to ask Judge Johnson to force the pair to give up the code.
He agreed. “For me, this is like turning over a key to a safe-deposit box,” Johnson said in ordering them to turn over the pass codes.
Last week, Victor claimed he could not remember the code. The judge did not hold him in contempt of court.
Voigt gave one code last month. It didn’t work. “I gave the password I remembered,” Voigt testified Monday at a contempt-of-court hearing.
She offered a second code and the hearing was delayed. “We tried it. It did not work,” prosecutor Michael Filteau said on Friday.
Because Voigt had offered several codes, Johnson had no choice. “I’m not going to hold her in contempt,” he said.