Can the Police Search My Cell Phone?
When a person is arrested on the suspicion that he or she committed a crime , he or she has certain rights. You are probably familiar with some of them, including the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, and the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. Other rights may sound familiar, but you may not know exactly what they guarantee.
For example, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. But, what does that mean? What is unreasonable search? Does that mean the police cannot search me at all during an arrest? In today’s digitally connected world, this question is often raised in regard to police searches of cell phones and other mobile devices.
Supreme Court Ruling
In 2014, two separate cases —Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie—made their way to the United States Supreme Court. The cases were similar enough that the high court heard them both at the same time. Each case involved a criminal defendant whose cell phone was seized and searched incident to arrest. The search in each case yielded photos, data, and other evidence that was subsequently used in the investigation and the prosecution of the defendants.
In making its decision, the Supreme Court was forced to consider how Americans use their cell phones. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion of the unanimous court, observing, “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 court concluded that in a vast majority of cases, police officers and prosecutors must obtain a warrant before conducting a search of a cell phone’s contents. Exceptions can be made in rare instances where immediate action is required, and the court specifically cited child abduction cases and imminent bomb threats.
Effects on Law Enforcement
While the cases were progressing to the Supreme Court, law enforcement agencies expressed concerns that warrantless cell phone searches could be used to increase officer safety. A search, for example, could reveal that the arrestee’s friends or accomplices were on their way to the scene. The court addressed such concerns by noting, “Privacy comes at a cost.” Once a cell phone has been secured and physical threats have been eliminated, the court held, data on the phone does not place officers in danger.
Call Us for Help
If law enforcement officers have searched your cell phone without a warrant and you are facing criminal charges as a result, you need a lawyer who will fight to protect your rights. Contact an experienced Will County criminal defense attorney for help. Call 815-740-4025 for a free consultation at the Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba today.