Can the Police Search Your Cell Phone When Arresting You?
The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in two cases involving cell phone privacy. The critical question of law in both instances is under what circumstances the police can search the contents of your phone.
Search Incident to Arrest
In general, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that law enforcement officials obtain a warrant before searching for evidence of a crime. The Supreme Court, however, has recognized a number of exceptions to this warrant requirement, including a search incident to arrest. This exception allows police to search the person and immediate surroundings of someone being placed under arrest. The rationale behind this exception to the warrant requirement is to prevent the last-minute destruction of evidence, as well as to protect police officers from the use of hidden weapons.
The Ubiquitous Cell Phone
For most people, a search of their person would turn up a cell phone. Cell phones may contain large amounts of personal information. For example, cell phones may include contact lists, call history, and the contents of text messages and emails sent and received by the caller. Smart phones, with their plethora of apps, may also include such information as GPS data that tracks the movements of the person, photographs, financial transactions, social media postings, and the like.
The key question is whether the police should have access to such large amounts of information merely upon an arrest. Many argue that, given the variety and quantity of private information contained in people's cell phones, the police should have to acquire a warrant before searching such devices. They point out that in many cases, when a person is arrested, their cell phone may be seized and held until a warrant is obtained. People on the other side of the argument, including many law enforcement officers, point out that cell phones may include valuable evidence of a crime, evidence that may be erased by the time a warrant is obtained.
What Will The Supreme Court Decide?
It can be difficult to guess how the Supreme Court will rule, even after listening to oral arguments. The two cases at issue involve two different styles of phones: an older flip phone and a more modern smart phone. Some suggest that the Justices may decide that it is okay to search older style flip phones (which include contact lists and call histories) and not smart phones (which include a larger amount of private information). Any decision that relies on the type of technology used by suspects is likely to quickly grow outdated, given the present pace of innovation. The Supreme Court will release its written opinion in early summer.
Getting Help When You Face Criminal Charges
If you have been charged with a crime in Massachusetts, it is critical that you speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights, provide sound legal advice, prepare you for trial, and defend you in court. Any delay in getting the help you need could damage your case and lead to long-term consequences. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, today for a confidential consultation.
See Related Posts:
SJC REQUIRES WARRANT FOR CELL PHONE LOCATION INFORMATION
MASSACHUSETTS COURT OF APPEALS LIMITS DEFENDANTS RIGHTS