No Cell Phone Search Without Warrant Says U.S. Supreme Court

Schmidt Law Group > Blog > Fourth Amendment > No Cell Phone Search Without Warrant Says U.S. Supreme Court

COURT FINDS WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF YOUR CELL PHONE VIOLATES FOURTH AMENDMENT 

The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable governmental contact.  Today, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a key decision, held that you have a right to privacy and to be free from unreasonable search and seizure of your cell phone, including smart phone.  In a unanimous decision the Court held that a cop must have a warrant before they can search your cellphone.  Many believe that this ruling would also include tablets and I-pads.

What this means is that the cops cannot just take your cell phone and start looking at who you called, texted, or emailed. The cop is required to have a judge issue a warrant that is based on probable cause before any such search is conducted.

What about non-cops, such as friends and family? Sorry, the Fourth Amendment protects only against unreasonable governmental contact not your friends and family. Governmental contacts are law enforcement, the prosecution, border patrol and good rule of thumb would be anyone who works for the government on any level, town, city, state, feds.

DOES THIS MEAN THE COURTS CAN NEVER SEARCH MY CELL PHONE?

Not necessarily.  Many times officers will simply ask you for permission to look at your phone contacts, histories, or text messages.  If you allow them to or give them permission to see your phone, it will take any search outside protections of the Fourth Amendment because the courts will consider it to be consensual. Meaning you agreed to waive the warrant requirement and allow the cop to search your phone.  The cops are not required to read you Miranda before they ask if they can see your phone or tell you that you have a constitutionally protected right to say no.

A good rule of thumb is:  if the cop is using words of permission, no matter the inflection or tone, you have a right to say no.  An example could be:  May I see the phone or how about you let me look, or let’s just clear this up now, or you can just let me see it; otherwise, I’ll go and get a warrant and keep you here longer.  The purpose of the warrant is to disallow the officer from conducting a fishing expedition, if they will seek a warrant or even get a judge to sign it, are unknowns that you don’ t know at the time.

For the full Supreme Court opinion click Riley v. California

We hope that this post on the Fourth Amendment has been informative.  If you believe that your Fourth Amendment Rights have been violated, contact us today for a free case evaluation at (303) 747-4686 or complete a request for information.