Like most people today, Oscar carried his cell phone with him everywhere. He kept a lot of important and highly personal information on his phone – another common trend. So, when the police arrested him, he wondered if law enforcement can search your cell phone without consent? Although Oscar’s criminal defense attorney could explain this later, it would have been helpful if he had understood his constitutional rights regarding cell phone searches.
The Supreme Court Ruling in Riley v. California
As technology changes the way we live our lives, the law must adapt also. In Riley v. California, lower courts disagreed on whether cell phones were protected from warrantless searches. The Supreme Court’s decision ruled that law enforcement could check the phone’s physical aspects (like the case) to make sure there were no hidden weapons.
Justice John R. Roberts noted that cell phones are different from other items that you might keep in your pocket, on your person, or in a bag. He noted:
“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans “the privacies of life.” The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”
However, Justice Samuel Alito wrote an opinion that agreed in part with Justice Roberts. He was concerned about having a balance between law enforcement (and public safety) and an individual’s right to privacy.
It is also important to note that the police may take and hold someone’s cell phone after an arrest. But they cannot search the phone until they receive a warrant.
Exceptions that Might Allow Law Enforcement to Search Your Cell Phone
Exigent circumstances that allow the police to conduct a search of your phone include:
- They are trying to prevent someone from being physically harmed;
- Relevant evidence might be destroyed;
- The person being arrested could use the phone to escape; or
- Other circumstances that improperly limit their legitimate actions.
Generally, and in most situations, law enforcement cannot search your cell phone without consent. Keep in mind that police officers might ask to search your phone. If you agree, then they can go ahead without a warrant.
Did Law Enforcement Search Your Cell Phone?
If so, your criminal defense attorney needs to know immediately. If the search was improper, then anything the police found might be inadmissible in court. Your lawyer can help you exercise your constitutional rights.
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