Can the Police Search Your Cell Phone?

Posted July 1st, 2014 by .

Categories: Criminal Defense.

cell-phone-privacyPrivacy is considered one of the foremost American rights.  In a recent major decision, the United States Supreme Court held up that right in the age of technology.  This particular ruling concerns cell phones — if someone is arrested, the police cannot routinely go through the suspect’s cell phone.  In most cases, a search warrant is necessary.

The Supreme Court made this ruling after considering the California case,Riley v. California, Docket 13-132.  David Leone Riley was stopped for driving a car with expired license plates.  The police officer then discovered that David was driving with a suspended license.  This was reason enough for the police to impound Mr. Riley’s car.  When the officer began taking an inventory of the vehicle’s contents, he came across some concealed weapons.  As a result, Mr. Riley was placed under arrest.

During the course of Mr. Riley’s arrest, he was relieved of his personal possessions, including his smartphone. Unlike a normal cell phone, a smartphone is similar to a computer. In addition to the normal functions of cell phones such as texting and phone calls, smartphones can retrieve emails, surf the Internet and download various applications such as games. Although they did not have a warrant to do so, the police department made the decision to examine Mr. Riley’s cell phone. Based on the information the police obtained from the smartphone, Mr. Riley was then charged with additional crimes.

Why is this important?  The Supreme Court recognized the power of the smartphone.  Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion and put it quite simply by noting that “a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house.”   It is clearly a breach of Fourth Amendment rights.  With this ruling in place, the police must have a warrant to go through someone’s cell phone.

This does not stop the police for holding on to an arrestee’s phone while they seek out a warrant.  Obviously, there is a concern for preserving evidence.  If there is a suspicion that something contained in the phone could be potentially destroyed, the police will include that information in their warrant.  Of course, if the police feel that someone intends to use their cell phone as a weapon, this would be another reason to examine it.

What about the average citizen pulled over for a traffic violation?  If an officer demands to look through your cell phone, you have the right to refuse their request.  Police are not permitted to go through your pictures or videos as a method to harass or intimidate you.  If this happens to you, you should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney to review your options in any traffic or criminal matter.  The Law Offices of Anthony Carbone has handled these types of cases for more than 25 years.  Contact us today for a free consultation.


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