A major victory for citizens’ privacy interests today as the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled law enforcement cannot search an arrested person’s cell phone without first obtaining a search warrant. While the court recognized the need to investigate crimes, the Court found that privacy rights are more important. Besides, the police may still have the ability to search a cellphone or smartphone for further evidence of a crime, they just need to take an extra step and request a search warrant from a judge. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. "Privacy comes at a cost."
Obtaining a search warrant is a relatively easy procedure for law enforcement and is usually done by swearing to facts under oath that constitute probable cause that a crime was committed or that incriminating evidence is likely to be found in a particular place or, in this case, the cellphone.
The cases the Court reviewed involved both an extensive smartphone search in California (that had been upheld by the state California court) and a more limited search of an old flip-phone in Massachusetts that a federal judge already had thrown out as an illegal search (search was only aimed at incoming calls and addresses).
Police can search an arrested person under arrest and whatever physical items are within reach to find weapons and preserve evidence. There are limitations as to what is “within reach” or what evidence can be searched for after an arrest. In addition, police may try to do an “end around” these search limitations by conducting “inventory searches”. However, the Court noted that vast amounts of sensitive data on modern smartphones raise new privacy concerns that differentiate cell phones from other evidence. The Court did allow the police to argue "exigent circumstances" to possibly uphold a search of a cell phone. Criminal defense lawyers already deal with this search warrant exception on a regular basis. It mainly deals with the fact that evidence may be destroyed before a search warrant is obtained.
These privacy and search issues will continue to keep being raised in the criminal courts. As technology advances, there will be new Fourth Amendment questions for defense attorneys to raise and judges to rule upon. This is exactly why if you have been arrested, you need an aggressive criminal lawyer that will raise these new issues in your case. You need an attorney that will file Motions to Suppress in your case to get evidence thrown out and to protect your privacy rights. You need an attorney that knows that latest case law to insure you get the best defense to your criminal case.
If you have been arrested, call an aggressive criminal defense lawyer!
Thomas C. Grajek – 863-838-5549