Can the Police Search My Phone?
You are arrested. You have your cell phone. Can the police search it without a warrant? The US Supreme Court has answered that question.
The US Supreme Court says the police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested. See Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct. 999 (2014)
To understand the Court's ruling and the implications of the Court's use of the word "generally", it is helpful to know the law.
The US Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable search and seizure by requiring the Government to get a warrant before conducting a search. A warrantless search is reasonable only if it falls within a specific exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.
One such exception is a search incident to a lawful arrest. The exception is allowed because the Government's interest in protecting the destruction of evidence, preventing an arrestee's escape, and protecting an officer from harm outweighs an individual's privacy interest.
It is important to remember that while a warrant to search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested is generally required, the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement may give law enforcement a justification for a warrantless search in a particular case.
Remember, when you subject yourself to criminal liability any measures you take to protect yourself might not make a difference in the end.
*If you think you need personalized legal assistance, always speak with a qualified attorney.