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Cell Phones and Privacy – Police Now Need a Warrant to Search Your Phone

In today’s technology-focused world, our cell phones almost become a part of us. Our memories and communications are contained inside smartphones through pictures and text messages. Even emails, documents, and bank records are commonly accessible via a person’s phone. When police have access to a person’s cell phone, they really have access to that person’s entire life.

The Supreme Court has recently recognized this fact through two cases: Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie. In both of these cases, the police legitimately detained defendants, one for driving with expired tags and the other for a drug sale. When police conducted a valid search and seized the defendants’ phones, police proceeded to look through the phones as evidence without a warrant. The evidence on the cellphones was later used to charge the suspects with much more serious charges.

While it is valid police procedure to search the person of a suspect, including purses or wallets, justices drew the line at cell phone searches, stating that these actions constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. The argument from the bench is that looking into a person’s digital records of his or her life through a cellphone is much more invasive of a person’s privacy than simply looking through the contents of a purse. Law enforcement will now be barred from looking at files or data in cell phones without a warrant.

Protecting Your Privacy

Under the Fourth Amendment, we have the right to refuse unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, police need a warrant or visible evidence of a crime in order to have reasonable cause to seize someone and then subsequently search the individual. Simply confiscating a cell phone “incident to arrest,” is not enough to look through cell phone data without a warrant.

Because of recent Supreme Court decisions on this subject, you have the right to politely refuse a search your phone by a police officer if you are arrested without a warrant and even with a warrant the police have to have authority prescribed in the warrant to search a phone recovered from a person. Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged that the Court’s ruling would cause a change in procedure for law enforcement. “We cannot deny that our decision today will have an impact on the ability of law enforcement to combat crime,” Roberts wrote at the close of his opinion. However, retaining a person’s constitutional right to privacy is worth the inconvenience. Courts historically have and are quite vigilant to protect our privacy even so when “privacy comes at a cost.”

These cases are a victory for privacy advocates everywhere. If you are arrested, you have the right to assert your right to privacy, including your privacy interests on your cell phone. If you suspect your Fourth Amendment right to privacy may have been violated by law enforcement, you should contact an experienced Roanoke criminal law firm today to discuss your specific case. No one should ever have to compromise his or her rights. Call Roanoke Criminal Attorneys at (540) 343-9349 for a free consultation of your situation.