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Supreme Court Rules That Cell Phones Cannot Be Searched Without a Warrant

Siri_iPhoneIn a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court, the justices unanimously ruled that police will now require a warrant to search a person’s cell phone.

Up until now, courts have routinely allowed the data contained on cell phones as evidence in a criminal proceeding on the basis that it prevents the destruction of evidence and for the safety of police officers in the field.

Historically, cell phones were used primarily for making calls, but with today’s technology, they serve a much greater purpose. Chief Justice Roberts said that cellphones could “just as easily be called cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers.”

The Supreme Court heard arguments from two cases on the issue in April, one of them from a California case, Riley v. California, where the subject was pulled over for an expired auto registration. A search of his car revealed loaded guns. When police searched his smartphone, they found evidence that he was associated with a street gang along with evidence that linked him to a shooting. He was later convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison. The evidence from the smartphone was obtained without a warrant.

Justice Roberts acknowledged that the decision will make law enforcement more difficult for officers. “Cellphones have become important tools in facilitating coordination and communication among members of criminal enterprises, and can provide valuable incriminating information about dangerous criminals,” he writes. “Privacy comes at a cost.”

The Supreme Court decision prevents police from searching a cellphone without a warrant, but this may not apply if consent is already given to police officers to search the phone. While police are questioning you, they may ask if they can see your cell phone. Sometimes, they may simply state, “I’m going to look at your cellphone, ok?” If you do not explicitly say “no”,, they may later claim that you consented to the search and any challenge to the evidence could be compromised.

If you or a loved one is charged with a crime based on an illegal search of your cellphone, call Orange County Criminal Lawyer Staycie R. Sena for a free consultation at (949) 477-8088.