If you are dependent upon an embedded medical device, should the device that helps keep you alive also be allowed to incriminate you in a crime? After all, the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects a person from being forced to incriminate themselves.
Nonetheless, that’s what happened after a house fire in Middletown, Ohio.
WCPO Cincinnati caught video of the actual fire, as well delivered news that the owner’s cat died in the fire. As a pet owner, it would be hard to believe that a person would set a fire and leave their pet to die in that fire. The fire in question occurred back in September 2016; the fire department was just starting an investigation to determine the cause of the blaze.
A month later, 59-year-old homeowner Ross Compton was arrested and charged with felony aggravated arson and insurance fraud. The cause of the fire was still undetermined, but it had resulted $400,000 in damages to the house and contents of the 2,000-square-foot home.
Fire investigators knew there had been “multiple points of origin of the fire from the outside of the residence.” At the time, the police cited inconsistencies in Compton’s statements when compared with the evidence from the fire.
There were additional “conflicting statements” given to the 911 operator; Compton had said “everyone” was out of the house, yet the 911 operator also heard him tell someone to “get out of here now.” In the 911 call published by WLWT5, an out-of-breath Compton claimed he had “grabbed a bunch of stuff, threw it out the window.” He claimed to have packed his suitcases, broken the glass out of bedroom window with his walking stick, and tossed the suitcases outside.
Compton also told the dispatcher he had “an artificial heart.”
After this, things really get interesting because police investigators used data from Compton’s electronic heart device against him. Isn’t that self-incrimination? Can a person “plead the Fifth” when it comes to self-incriminating data collected from their medical device?
Police set out to disprove Compton’s story about the fire by obtaining a search warrant to collect data from Compton’s pacemaker. WLWT5 reported that the cops wanted to know “Compton’s heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.”
On Friday, Jan. 27, the Journal-News reported that court documents stated: “A cardiologist who reviewed that data determined ‘it is highly improbable Mr. Compton would have been able to collect, pack and remove the number of items from the house, exit his bedroom window and carry numerous large and heavy items to the front of his residence during the short period of time he has indicated due to his medical conditions.'”
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Middletown Police said this was the first time it had used data from a heart device to make an arrest, but the pacemaker data proved to be an “excellent investigative tool;” the data from the pacemaker didn’t correspond with Compton’s version of what happened. The retrieved data help to indict Compton.
Lt. Jimmy Cunningham told WLWT5, “It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him.”
It’s worth noting that gasoline was also found on various pieces of Compton’s clothing. Could police have indicted him without using the data from his pacemaker against him?