Evidence Gathered in Warrantless Cell Phone Searches is Inadmissible
When an individual is arrested, whether it is on charges of DUI , weapons offenses, or possession of drugs, the arresting officer will normally conduct a pat-down search of the arrestee. This is done in an effort to prevent the officer from being injured by any object on the individual’s person that may pose an immediate threat. The search is also conducted to prevent the destruction of immediately available additional evidence, such as drugs or drug paraphernalia. However, up to 90 percent of American adults routinely carry a cell phone or other mobile device that may be seized by police subsequent to an arrest. Thanks to a ruling by the United States Supreme Court, though, the police must obtain a warrant before looking through an arrestee’s cell phone for additional information.
The decision came as the result of two separate cases from opposite sides of the country. In the first, a California man was convicted for additional crimes when a warrantless search of his cell phone led to incriminating evidence that was used against him at trial. In the other, a man in Massachusetts was arrested for selling drugs and law enforcement officials searched his phone. Using information on the phone, they were able to identify the man’s apartment, a warranted search of which found additional drugs and illegal weapons. Together, the two cases reached the nation’s high court, which, in a unanimous decision, solidified the concept of digital privacy by prohibiting warrantless searches of cell phones.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the court. He expressly recognized the inherent differences between a cell phone or mobile device and other items that are routinely carried on someone’s person. The search of a cell phone, he continued, is therefore much different than the normal, brief search conducted incident to arrest. “Digital data stored on a cell phone,” Roberts wrote, “cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee’s escape.”
The court maintained the right of law enforcement to secure the device and to search it after obtaining a warrant based on probable cause, but recognized that such searches are rarely so time-sensitive that the warrant process would have a measurable negative impact. Proceeding to search without a warrant, however, would render the information developed from such a search to be inadmissible in most cases, and a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
At the Law Offices of Jack L. Zaremba, we take the rights of defendants very seriously. We understand the law, and when law enforcement officers violate your rights, we are prepared to take action. If you have been charged with a crime based on information found on your cell phone, contact an experienced Will County criminal defense lawyer today. We will review your case and are equipped to help you protect your future. Call 815-740-4025 to schedule your free, confidential consultation.