The issue of restrictions on police searching your cellphone has been the subject of a series of important court decisions in recent years. However, police cannot search the cellphones of criminal suspects without a warrant and they need to establish probable cause to obtain one.
This principle was reinforced in an important 2014 Supreme Court case. The nation’s highest court decided search warrants are required to search phone records, reported CNN.
The case was a major endorsement for privacy rights. In a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court justices said smartphones, as well as other electronic devices, were different from wallets, briefcases, and vehicles which can receive a limited initial examination by police officers.
Searches can generally be allowed when there is “probable cause” that a crime has been committed, to make sure officers are safe and to prevent the destruction of evidence.
The ruling in 2014 followed cases in California and Massachusetts. These states convicted suspects after details like phone numbers, addresses, text messages, and photos were obtained from their electronic devices. Law enforcement officers claimed this material pointed to drug and gang-related activities.
The defendants appealed the cases. It gave the U.S. Supreme Court the chance to focus on the seizures of cell phones at a time when smartphone technology was moving at a rapid pace.
The ruling stated:
“The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”
The justices said the answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone was very simple. They should get a search warrant.
In 2017, another court battle erupted over whether police needed a warrant, this time for locational data from cell towers.
In 2015, a federal appeals court ruled the public has no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to their cell phone location records.
The judges said police do not require a search warrant to obtain access to cell tower location records when probing criminal cases because the information belongs to a third party.
The case concerned Miami resident Quartavious Davis, who was convicted of possession of a firearm, robbery, and conspiracy in 2012 after investigators obtained 67 days of his cell phone records from a provider. Davis was sentenced to 162 years in prison.
The case came before the U.S. Supreme Court in late 2017.
It’s vital to know your rights if you are stopped by the police. Call the Medlin Law Firm for assistance if you are arrested in Fort Worth.