Search Warrants and Cell Phones
The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the search of a person’s cell phone by police if there is not a warrant.
Police Need a Warrant to Search Cell Phone Data
In Riley v California, a unanimous United States Supreme Court held that police must obtain a warrant before searching a cell phone. A vast amount of information is stored on cell phones, including search history, text messages, photos, videos, etc. A warrant requirement broadly protects Americans’ privacy rights in the digital age.
Warrantless searches have been justified to protect officer safety from hidden weapons or the destruction of evidence. The Court determined that neither reason applied to the digital information on a cellphone or other mobile devices. The Court stated that police officers could examine the physical aspects of a cell phone to ensure it would not be used as a weapon, but once that was done, the data on the telephone could not endanger anyone.
Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the opinion for the Court, stressed that cellphones are different than other objects. A person’s entire life can be recreated from a cellphone making unfettered access to them without a warrant an illegal search and seizure.
The Court acknowledged that mobile devices are essential tools for criminals, but they are also essential tools for most Americans, and requiring police to get a warrant before searching a cell phone could hinder investigations. Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “[b]ut individual rights sometimes outweigh the convenience of the government” and further “privacy comes at a cost.”
The Court concluded its opinion with the following: “Our answer to the question of what police need to do before searching a cellphone seized incident to arrest is accordingly simple – get a warrant.”
Privacy advocates hailed the cell phone decision as a signal that the court would protect constitutional privacy interests from the vast powers of modern technology. The legal director of the ACLU stated, “[b]y recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans.”
Criminal defense attorneys fearlessly fighting to defend your constitutional rights
If you, or someone you know, faces criminal charges and a possible loss of freedom, it is essential to have expert legal counsel by your side. The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have spent decades defending our client’s constitutional rights. We have successfully fought to suppress illegally seized evidence in felony and misdemeanor cases. Top defense lawyers know when a warrant is required for searching a cell phone, home, car, purse, or anything else and can challenge evidence seized or searched in violation of the 4th Amendment.
Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete a Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.