Warrantless Search of Cell Phone Now Prohibited

Police search and seizurePolice can no longer search through a person’s cell phone simply because it is in their possession when they are arrested.

The United States Supreme Court recently issued decisions in two cases that limit the scope of searches incident to arrest when it comes to cell phones.(Riley v. California & United States v. Wurie) The Court held that a search incident to arrest does not extend to searching the contents of a cellular phone (meaning accessing the phone’s memory, call log, messages, and pictures). The Court reasoned that the contents of cell phones today contain highly private and sensitive information, much more so than would be expected in a datebook or calendar. This privacy interest in the contents of our cellular phones trumps any law enforcement interest in searching the phone without first securing a warrant based on probable cause.

This is not to say that the police cannot search the contents of a cellular phone; law enforcement officers may obtain a warrant if there is probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime will be found on the phone. But police can no longer search through a person’s phone simply because it is in their possession when they are arrested.

Defining “search incident to arrest”

One of the most frequently invoked exceptions to the requirement that police obtain a warrant before searching someone’s property is known as a “search incident to arrest.” This exception relieves police of the duty to obtain a search warrant before searching a person who is being taken into custody for the commission of a crime. The rationale for this exception is that police officers need to know whether someone they are about to place into the back of their car or bring in to their station is carrying a weapon or other contraband.

Historically, a search incident to arrest encompassed not only the person, but any bag, container, or case they were carrying. This meant that if a person was being taken into custody, not only could the police search that person’s bag, but any containers within the bag, including a wallet, calendar or notebook.

If you think your rights have been violated in the manner, or you have questions on this topic, contact our offices, we can help.

Posted on September 4, 2014, in Criminal Law, Minor, Search & Seizure and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Warrantless Search of Cell Phone Now Prohibited.

Comments are closed.