If you ever find yourself in a situation where a police officer is asking to search your cell phone, you might be wondering if it’s legal for him or her to do so without a search warrant.
The answer is a little complicated. The simple answer is that police definitely need a search warrant to search your cell phone. That was determined by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2014.
Essentially, the things you have stored in your cell phone are like the things you have stored in your pocket, and police need a warrant to search it. There are, however, some exceptions to the rule.
When can police search your cell phone?
Here are some of the most common exceptions to the rule about warrants:
- Consent – The owner of the phone gave permission for law enforcement to search it.
- Plain view – The cell phone and/or the contents in the phone were in plain view
- Public school – The police searched your phone at a public school.
- Searched after arrest – You were already under arrest when the officer in question searched your phone. Still, officers mostly need a warrant even if you are under arrest, especially if you tell them at the time of your arrest that you do NOT consent to your cell phone being searched.
- Stop and frisk – You are being stopped because police have “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed, are committing, or will commit a crime.
- Emergency/police chase – If you were the subject of a police chase, then police might search your phone because they have reason to believe you would destroy evidence related to the pursuit or any crime that happened before the pursuit.
Although all of these exceptions would lead you to believe that police can come up with almost any legitimate reason to search your phone, that’s not correct. Each exception has very specific parameters that have been outlined by previous court decisions. And there are different court precedents that apply for state and federal courts.
The Supreme Court ruled that your cell phone is not like any other “container” that might be found in the suspect’s possession, like, for example, if police find a partially smoked joint in your cigarette pack. Your cell phone, after all, is a window into vastly personal things that could include medical records, bank account information, and much, much more.
That’s why it’s so important for you to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your case.
If you or someone you love believes your cell phone was searched illegally by police, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.